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College & Workforce Readiness

Comparing How All 50 States Connect Schools to the Workforce

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 24, 2019 2 min read
Bobbie Wells wipes down a bedside tray in a hospital room in the Christiana Care Health System. Wells and her co-workers use a high-tech, ultraviolet-light cleaning system, which is digitally operated and requires extensive training.
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All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have some kind of investment board to direct different funding streams for workforce development, but only 12 states have career pathway systems that are primarily coordinated by the state’s K-12 system.

Those are two main takeaways from a new Education Commission of the States report looking at the different approaches states have when they want to connect their education systems to the world of work.

The information published by ECS is part of the group’s ongoing study of the connections between education and work. In part, this reflects a surge of interest in the topic at the state level. Last year for example, state lawmakers introduced 165 bills addressing the link between the two issues, and 27 of them became law. By contrast, in 2012, lawmakers only introduced 30 such bills.

For the purposes of its report, ECS determined that a state K-12 agency coordinated career pathways if “the origin and management/coordination took place within a K-12 education entity/agency,” even if the pathways extended into postsecondary and workforce experiences. Other states relied on their postsecondary institutions. And some states relied on departments of labor, workforce, or organizations not focused on education specifically—in these cases, ECS used the “Workforce” label to show which entity was responsible. Finally, a handful of states relied on multiple agencies to coordinate the pathways.

Need the state-by-state breakdown in visual form? See below:

To compile its report, ECS looked at state statutes and regulations; state plans from 2018 for the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; webpages for the departments of education, labor, economic development and higher education; and webpages for state workforce investment boards.

Why does this matter? Tom Keily, an ECS policy researcher, said that it’s important to see how states are trying to bring different systems to bear on what they identify as their workforce needs: “It’s something we see more of in legislative trends.” However, Keily added that a state picking its K-12 agency or labor department to oversee how career pathways work isn’t “necessarily a values statement.”

In addition, ECS found that half the states have a statute that spells out at least one financial aid program for students who want to attend a postsecondary program for a high-demand field.

(On Capitol Hill, both parties link education to the broader economy in nominal as well as other terms. When they’re in charge, House Republicans call the committee that handles K-12 the “Committee on Education and the Workforce,” while House Democrats now running the chamber prefer the sobriquet “Committee on Education and Labor.”)

While you’re here: Check out last year’s special report from Education Week on “Schools and the Future Workforce.” In that edition, you can read stories about everything from digital literacy to employer wish lists and—sorry, we can’t help it—student journalists.