Make your home page

More time needed to assess if Indiana’s work-based learning overhaul is effective, says new brief

Indiana lawmakers plan to “reinvent” high school curriculum by expanding graduation requirements to allow for more work-based learning. (Provided Photo/Getty Images)

(INDIANA CAPITAL CHRONICLE) — As Indiana’s new technical education overhaul rolls out for high schoolers across the state, will work-based learning take hold, as intended, and transform how younger Hoosiers get job-ready?

That’s the question being asked by Indiana’s Fiscal Policy Institute (IFP) in a brief published last month — the first of several in a series analyzing youth talent development.

The brief dives into House Enrolled Act 1002, a sweeping piece of GOP-backed legislation approved during the 2023 legislative session.

Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville, who authored the proposal, touted it as a way to “reinvent high school” by increasing opportunities for apprenticeships, internships and other work-based-learning with a school choice funding mechanism. 

This first-of-its-kind model was seen as “provocative” by many who would prefer more investment in traditional Career and Technical Education (CTE) programming, according to the IFP brief. Even so, many proponents argued “that it did not go far enough fast enough.”

“Regardless, the bill was a disruptor and created several discrete yet interconnected programs that could, once built out, drastically change educational options for Hoosier high schoolers. As Indiana, like many states, continues to battle a growing labor shortage, building a talent pipeline in high school is a strategy that many states are embracing,” the brief said. “As of now, there is no proof that these talent pipeline programs work, but if Indiana wishes to fund this programming, more time, more funding, and more infrastructure must be in place to meet the needs of students, employers, and communities.”

More doors opened for Hoosiers-in-training

Paramount to last year’s bill was a provision that established accounts for students in grades 10-12 to pay for career training outside their schools. The new framework is intended to enable students to earn a post-secondary credential before leaving the K-12 system.

Republican budget writers approved $15 million over the biennium for career scholarship accounts (CSAs), which are similar to Indiana’s Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Participating students can use the $5,000 CSAs to pay for apprenticeships, career-related coursework, or certification.

The first cohort of students was limited to 1,000 students, but state officials said in January that just over 200 Indiana students received state funding for job training in the first year of the CSA program.

To qualify for the accounts, students need to meet for at least 30 minutes with an intermediary — an employer or a labor organization they seek to work with to discuss current and future career opportunities.

Echoing prior concerns raised about that requirement, the IFP brief suggested those meetings cause “additional burdens on the educational system.”

And because the career discovery meetings must be in-person and can’t include more than five students at one time, that creates “a potential capacity issue in the goal of providing career awareness opportunities to as many students as possible.”

House Enrolled Act 1002 also requires public schools to begin providing “career awareness instruction,” including but not limited to a yearly career fair during normal school hours, as well as new courses, apprenticeships and other career-related programming designated by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and Commission for Higher Education (CHE).

Further, IDOE and the State Board of Education (SBOE) are directed to revamp the high school graduation requirements in order to increase the ability for these new career-related programs to count towards graduation and honors diplomas. 

The IFP brief emphasized “more flexibility for students in receiving the funding they need,” is “one of the major benefits” of the legislation. For example, students now have two years to earn funded credentials instead of the previous six-month time limit.

Students are also incentivized to learn more about post-graduation jobs by way of new permissions to work while in school and receive credit for that job experience that counts toward their graduation.

Some concerns, uncertainties remain

Still, the policy brief outlined hesitations about the technical education plan, including concerns from education officials that it’s “moving too fast” and “lacks important oversight.”

Of the major concerns, though, is the approval and funding of intermediaries that will be entitled to state dollars for helping connect students with employers and training opportunities. Naysayers point to only a short application which intermediaries and career coaching providers must submit in order to be added to CHE’s list of approved providers.

They also argue that the legislation privatizes public-school services and distributes public tax dollars to private entities. Over time the number of participating private entities “will only increase as companies use this state funding to pay for their training and recruitment,” the policy brief opined, “so this issue will potentially continue to increase in severity.”

Some critics have maintained, too, that definitions and evaluation methods for providers are overly vague. 

“This is not a critique unique to HEA 1002; a lot of legislation has vague language that dilutes its impact or broadens the scope of a program to such a degree that it is no longer concentrated enough to create meaningful change,” the IFP brief said. For example, the legislation defines “intermediary” as an “organization that connects individuals with companies looking for new workers.” 

“This is a large scope of work for those approved as intermediaries for the purpose of the legislation,” the brief continued.

Relatedly, schools are unable to receive CTE grants for students who have already been assigned a CSA. 

“This could make funding for public schools even more variable,” according to the policy brief. “However, the reverse is also possible; if students choose to obtain their programming through CSA providers that are not public schools, those schools lose out on CTE grant revenue.”

Rural schools might especially be at a disadvantage, according to the fiscal policy institute, which pointed to concerns that funding” will be stripped from smaller programs in rural areas to fund CSA program goals, leaving a community with potentially fewer robust resources than it had before.”

School counselors — tasked with implementing many of the new requirements — have also been “disproportionately affected by the increased demands.”

“School counselors are already not provided with enough support to deal with the multi-faceted issues they have to face, including student mental health, graduation requirements, and now the coordination of school career fairs, increased counselor training requirements, as well as coordination with HEA 1002 intermediaries,” the brief said.

Additionally void from the new law are “practical considerations” for technical education programs, like addressing struggling students, or “how schools should deal with students who may find these programs not for them and who want to return to normal high school classes part-way through the semester.”

“Existential concerns” from some about how the programs created by House Enrolled Act 1002 will impact Hoosier students in the long-term also persist. 

“Will these programs allow for more opportunities for students, or will it limit their ability to seek a degree? Will the experiences that they receive result in stackable credentials that align with employer needs?” the IFP brief questioned . “Will the funding for this model, as it grows, have its own dedicated funding, or will it divert funding from other existing educational funding and higher education scholarships? Will participating in these programs in high school increase their overall earning potential?”

A new law takes effect

To make it easier for Hoosier families to participate and spend work-based learning funds, lawmakers approved additional legislation during the 2024 session to expand options for CSAs

House Enrolled Act 1001, also authored by Goodrich, addresses “issues” that arose for first-year CSA applicants who were unable to submit necessary materials within the seven-day requirement laid out in the original law. The updated statute now gives students 30 days.

The law also provides clarification around how CSA funds can be used for transportation. Students will be allowed to use up to $625 from annual CSA grants to pay for training for a driver’s license as long as the training employer matches at least half of the cost. Grant funds can’t be used to purchase vehicles, however.

Goodrich said transportation was a major hindrance to students getting to internships and apprenticeships after last year’s law was implemented. He likened a driver’s license to a credential or certificate and said using the funds to get a driver’s license follows the spirit of the law.

Even so, CHE officials cautioned that “a lot of questions” remain about what does — and does not — qualify as a transportation expense.

The bill also extends eligibility for Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to the siblings of students who have disabilities, even if those siblings do not have disabilities themselves. Currently, ESAs are only available for students who require special education services.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed funds from the 21st Century Scholars or Frank O’Bannon grant programs to be used to pay for a course, certificate or apprenticeship after a student graduates high school, rather than for college. Democrats consistently pushed back against that provision, however. That language was later deleted from the bill.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ryan Mishler, R-Mishawaka, further remedied concerns with an amendment that created a new fund to pay for post-secondary training for non-college bound students. He said state dollars will not be appropriated until the 2025 budget session.