Snyder budget to include 75 percent increase for trades, career tech training

Markets Associated Press

Gov. Rick Snyder will ask Michigan lawmakers for a 75 percent increase in funding for skilled trades training and career technical education in his budget proposal for the new fiscal year.

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Administration officials told The Associated Press on Monday that the spending plan to be unveiled Wednesday includes doubling a $10 million trades program that partially covers businesses' training costs.

The Republican governor also wants to spend nearly $18 million to take statewide an initiative that lets students get a high school diploma and either an associate's degree, technical certification, college credits or apprenticeship start in five years. The proposal would boost overall spending on vocational education by half.

"It's basically all designed to make sure that we are positioning Michigan to be the absolute leader in the country in this field and making sure we're filling that gap we know that's out there — this need for talent that we have," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.

The state is spending $47.6 million in the current budget on programs that support career and tech education and skilled trades. The budget would rise to $83.2 million in the fiscal year starting in October.

At the start of his second term, Snyder has put a bigger emphasis on addressing a skills gap he says leads to jobs going unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates. There are at least 80,000 unfilled positions listed on a state-sponsored jobs website, according to his administration. Michigan's unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in December, the lowest in 12 years. But the state's jobless rate was higher than the national average of 5.6 percent.

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New budget initiatives include:

— adding community college courses to a statewide online course catalog to boost dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students ($600,000);

— improving career planning tools ($500,000);

— increasing grants to help K-12 districts hire mentors and college advisers ($1 million); and

— creating a $100,000 pilot program to raise awareness about career technical ed and the ability to earn college credit before high school graduation.

Stephanie Comai, director of the state's new Talent Investment Agency, said Snyder had three goals in drafting the budget plan — preparing students for in-demand jobs, ensuring they know all their career and post-secondary options and helping those already in the workforce enhance their skills.

"There are already scarce resources available, and for the governor to recommend over $83 million for career and technical education and for skilled trades is a very significant investment," she said.

Snyder's push comes as he faces a $289 million shortfall in the existing budget, largely because of higher-than-expected business tax credits being claimed. Revenue is $527 million below expectations for the next budget but still up from the current fiscal year.

Snyder, who will detail mid-year cuts Wednesday alongside his new $54 billion spending plan, is not expected to reduce school districts' per-pupil funding or revenue sharing to local governments. Universities and community colleges also are safe, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, a Lowell Republican.

While revenue in the $11.9 billion school aid fund is $36 million above estimates from May, revenue in state government's other main fund — the $9.5 billion general fund — is down $325 million, which may affect a number of agencies including those handling public assistance, prisons, law enforcement, driver's licenses and environmental regulations.

Once Snyder issues his budget-cutting executive order, the GOP-led Legislature's committees can approve or reject it.

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