More than 14,000 students from 36 high schools in Pima County, San Manuel and Rio Rico are graduating or are well on their way to graduating in an enviable position. They are:
• Preparing for a career in fields for which employers are seeking workers with specific skills.
• Applying their classroom knowledge - particularly in math and science - to real-world applications to go directly from high school to the workforce or to prepare for college.
• Graduating from high school at a 98 percent rate, compared with the overall rate of their Arizona peers at 78 percent.
• Passing the AIMS test at a 94 percent rate compared with 71 percent for all state high school students.
These students are enrolled in JTED, which prides itself on "moving students to careers and college" through tuition-free Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses.
Approved by voters in 2006 and opened in 2007, JTED (Pima County's Joint Technical Education District) has proved to be a "successful model of delivering education," says Tina Norton, chief financial officer of the district. "Our students walk out with a sense of direction and a job."
Amid constant hand-wringing about the quality of education and its ability to mesh with the demands of the rapidly changing job market, a program that's working deserves financial support and praise.
We're ready with the praise, but the Legislature has rewarded JTED's success with dramatic budget cuts the last two years.
The Legislature has chipped away at the budget and forced the elimination of programs for high school freshmen. According to Norton, the fiscal year budget has gone from $21.9 million in 2011 to $15 million for 2013. Capital funding and what's known as soft capital (textbooks, computers and supplies) were cut as well, decreasing money available by another $3 million.
Getting an inside look at such a successful program makes the state Senate's move last week to permanently cut about $239 million for all schools statewide even more deplorable. The Senate approved $82 million in inflation help as a result of a court order.
JTED classes, held at its sites and at area high schools, are taught by professionals in the field who are certified teachers - or on their way to certification. The 25 tuition-free programs include 1,600 hours of cosmetology leading to a state license as well as shorter programs in fire service, precision manufacturing and mining technologies.
All high school students in the JTED districts are eligible for any JTED program, no matter which school they attend.
As a bonus, JTED programs provide opportunities for students who haven't passed AIMS and did not receive a diploma, who dropped out school or opted for a GED. They must under 22 when their program begins.
The students and their accomplishments are as varied as the offerings:
• Miriam Solinsky, who'll be a senior a Tanque Verde High School next fall, is in the agriscience program and is preparing to be a veterinarian.
• Aden Abdi, a senior in Pueblo Magnet High School's certified nursing assistant program, would like to be a registered nurse and eventually a doctor, and hopes to use his training in his native Somalia.
• Nicole Carpenter, a senior at Canyon del Oro High School, brought home a full-tuition scholarship for the Art Institute of Tucson valued at $50,000. She's one of eight JTED students who won scholarships at the careers through culinary arts program final competition.
• Miguel Sandoval, a senior in the multimedia program at Sahuarita High School, recently won an anti-bullying public service announcement competition. He's headed to college to study in the field.
• Fernanda Gonzalez is casting her net widely by taking the automotive technologies and fire services programs at Pueblo Magnet High School, and also the law, public safety and security central campus program.
JTED works closely with local employers large and small. It was easy to assess the benefits when 14 seniors were honored by the Automotive Service Association of Arizona's Tucson Chapter earlier this month. During the banquet, Julee Baxley, co-owner of Integrity Automotive & Integrity Diesel, even announced to the students that she's looking for diesel mechanics and likes to hire JTED students. Now that's a pretty nice graduation gift.
We must support success in education, particularly a program that keeps students in school and provides a career path and all the benefits that come with it.
JTED's website, www.pimajted.org, tells its whole story.
Arizona Daily Star