College & Workforce Readiness

States Are Making Work-Based Learning a Top Policy Priority

By Lauraine Langreo — February 23, 2024 3 min read
Kermir Highsmith, left, Dynasty McClurk, center, and Nevaeh Williams, work in their culinary arts class at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Dec. 13, 2022.
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In 2023, 47 states enacted 115 policies affecting career and technical education and career readiness, including legislation, executive orders, and budget provisions, concludes a new report from Advance CTE and the Association for Career and Technical Education.

It marks the second-highest number of states that enacted CTE-related policies in a single year, behind 2017 when all 50 states implemented policies affecting CTE, according to the report.

A majority (72 percent) of the policies enacted in 2023 affect K-12, the report found.

Interest in CTE has grown over the past decade. School districts and states are expanding CTE programs as more Americans say schools should put a higher priority on preparing students for careers and basic life skills. More than 40 states have signed the Common Career Technical Core, a commitment to expand CTE programs and make them more rigorous, according to Advance CTE, a national nonprofit that represents state career and technical education directors.

“What’s really interesting about the state policies that we’ve been seeing over the past few years is that, in the past, policies were much more tangentially connected to CTE,” said Dan Hinderliter, the associate director for state policy for Advance CTE. “Now, the policies that we’re seeing have a direct, immediate impact, not only on CTE systems, but on CTE learners more broadly.”

About 40 percent of the CTE policies states enacted last year focused on industry partnerships and work-based learning, the report found. For instance, Oregon amended school code provisions concerning the daily pupil attendance calculation so that work-based learning programs count toward those hours. And Washington state passed legislation that allows high school students to earn elective credits for paid work experiences approved by school officials and a work-based sponsor.

It’s the second consecutive year that industry partnerships and work-based learning were the top policy focus, according to the report.

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Tenth graders, TaeLyn Johnson, left, and Dilana Gray, right, practice on a dummy during their EMS class at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Dec. 13, 2022.
Tenth graders TaeLyn Johnson, left, and Dilana Gray practice EMS skills during a career and technical education class at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh on Dec. 13, 2022.
Nate Smallwood for Education Week

“We really want to see that learners are actually being prepared for careers that will exist in the future,” Hinderliter said. “As those careers are developing, we as educators don’t always know what those are and have to lean on those industry partnerships to really make sure that we are developing the types of career pathways that really prepare learners for those future careers that might be available to them.”

Rounding out the top five policy areas that states focused on were: tracking student outcomes; funding; amending rules of agencies or offices that handle CTE; and modifying graduation requirements, according to the report.

Before the pandemic, funding was often the top policy focus, Hinderliter said. But because of the COVID relief funds that districts received, funding has not been as prominent in Advance CTE’s state policy tracking in the last few years.

Still, 22 states enacted 34 policies related to funding CTE or career readiness in 2023. For example, Ohio is investing $400 million into CTE programs, and Wyoming will be awarding grant funding of up to $50,000 per district to purchase CTE equipment.

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Photo of a diverse group of elementary aged kids around a table building robots and testing them together with a male teacher during a stem robotics class.
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Two policy areas that were in the top five in 2022 but were not in the top five in 2023 are access and equity (No. 3 in 2022) and industry-recognized credentials (No. 5 in 2022).

For 2024, Advance CTE and ACTE predict that states will enact policies that address the new and emerging industries, such as sustainability, advanced manufacturing, and automation/artificial intelligence. They also predict that there will be more policies around teacher recruitment and retention and alignment with postsecondary education, as well as a continued focus on work-based learning.

“There are a lot of states that are working towards expanding career pathways in new and emerging spaces,” Hinderliter said. Georgia, for example, has started an electric vehicle manufacturing pathway, and Ohio has created semiconductor manufacturing programs.

Many emerging industries “need a significant number of new employees,” he said. These industries are “looking to CTE to drive that employer pipeline,” by letting students know that these opportunities will be available to them when they graduate.

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