BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – Job training in Arkansas is aligning more closely with the needs of companies seeking to hire workers equipped with skills for the global economy.
Two developments in state government last week were clear indicators of the trend. First, the Department of Workforce Services announced that 12 community colleges would receive about $4 million in grants to set up job training programs that are “sector-based.”
That means the colleges will train students for specific jobs that in are demand at local manufacturing plants and health care facilities. They also will teach students skilled construction trades and information technology.
A spokesman for the 12 Arkansas Community Colleges (ACC) said that 40 companies were lined up to hire people who went through the job training programs.
The other development was very similar. It came when the state Higher Education Department announced the awarding of grants to universities and colleges for specialized classes that will train students in career and technical education.
The courses were designed with input from local businesses. Graduates of the classes will have job skills that are in demand by local industry.
The grants are part of a major restructuring of job training in Arkansas so that employers have a greater voice in the skills that are taught. In the regular session earlier this year, the legislature approved Senate Bill 891, which became Act 1131, the Workforce Initiative of 2015. It restructures job training programs that previously existed in a kaleidoscope of post-secondary schools, two-year colleges, vo-tech schools and adult education centers.
The act increases the influence of regional business leaders to determine which job skills are most in demand within their region, and it directs funding to job training that will meet those needs. Continued funding levels will depend in part on how many graduates are hired.
English Language Learners
Arkansas students who grew up speaking Spanish are at the top of the academic rankings when compared with similar students in other Southern states.
In math Arkansas fourth graders ranked first compared to other Southern states, and eighth graders ranked second. They ranked third in fourth grade literacy and first in eighth grade literacy, according to a report to legislators at a meeting on education.
The rankings are even more impressive considering that the number of Spanish-speaking students in Arkansas has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. In the 2005-2006 school year there were 20,173 Arkansas students who had to take English as a second language, and last year there were 37,330.
Not all, but the overwhelming majority of English learners are Spanish speaking, according to the report. About 86 percent speak Spanish, 6.2 percent speak Marshallese, 1.3 percent speak Vietnamese and 1 percent speak Laotian.
School districts in Arkansas get bonus funding for each student enrolled for whom English is not their native language.
The analyst who reported to legislators said that there is not a uniform statewide program for all English learners. Rather, each district and each school tailors its classes to suit its students, in part depending on the proportion of English learners enrolled. About half of the state’s English learners are in Springdale, Rogers, Fort Smith and Little Rock.