As the Arizona Legislature kicks into full gear, state Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, is looking to restore funding for freshman high school students in a statewide technical training and education program.

Orr introduced a bill to partly reverse a 2011 budget cut that took away $29 million from the Joint Technical Education District, a collaborative effort between school districts to provide a variety of vocational programs, including health science, culinary arts, manufacturing and engineering.

Orr’s bill, which is scheduled for a hearing today in the House education committee, would restore about $2 million to $3 million statewide — enough to allow about 2,700 freshman students in the state to be funded.

“I really see this as kind of a way to start the process of restoring funding for ninth-graders,” Orr said.

He said it is important for freshman students to be counted in the student body to receive funding so that “kids that may have more of an aptitude with working with their hands or mechanical arts” can get a head start. A lot of the programs can lead to college careers also, he said.

The bill’s language limits the restoration of funding to ninth-graders who are enrolled in programs that lead to certifications in and acceptance by a specific vocation or industry.

Tina Norton, Pima

JTED’s chief operating officer and assistant superintendent, said many sectors, such as engineering, require four-year (college) degrees, not a certification.

So if industry isn’t looking for a certified worker, the change wouldn’t mean much, she said.

Norton said some of the programs that freshmen can take potentially leading to certifications are auto, construction, precision manufacturing and plumbing.

But with the current language of the bill, she said, ninth-graders would not receive funding for junior- and senior-level certification programs, such as cosmetology.

Norton said she had hoped the bill would be closer to a full restoration. Orr agreed, saying this is work in progress.

“I see it as a good start,” he said. “I want to work with Pima County JTED in figuring out how we educate the most students in the most effective manner.”

Several attempts to reach Kevin McCarthy at the Arizona Tax Research Association, an organization that has opposed state funding of JTEDs in the past, were unsuccessful.

Yoohyun Jung is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at