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Job training programs work but need more funding, St. Louis officials tell Parson

 Damond Calhoun, a junior at Clyde Miller Career Academy in St. Louis, prepares a veggie stir fry in the school's teaching kitchen while fellow junior Airyana Polk looks on. Gov. Mike Parson voiced his support for vocational training programs in Missouri schools during a visit to Clyde Miller on Thursday.
Sarah Fentem
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Damond Calhoun, a junior at Clyde Miller Career Academy in St. Louis, prepares a veggie stir fry in the school's teaching kitchen while fellow junior Airyana Polk looks on. Gov. Mike Parson voiced his support for vocational training programs in Missouri schools during a visit to Clyde Miller on Thursday.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called for more vocational training in the state’s high schools during a visit to St. Louis on Thursday.

Parson visited Clyde Miller Career Academy in Grand Center, which offers training in hospitality, manufacturing and other fields, besides preparing students for college.

The governor said he'd like to see more of Missouri's high schools offer career training to help fill the state's nearly 150,000 open jobs.

“When I was in school, you were pushed into a scenario of ‘well, everyone’s going to college,’” Parson told school administrators during a discussion in the school’s library. “And that’s fine, but the reality is a lot of kids are not going to. So how are you going to take care of those kids?”

The governor said he advocated for higher teacher salaries in this year’s proposed state budget. Teachers in Missouri are among the lowest paid in the nation

Clyde Miller students in the high school's professional-grade kitchen and health care training classroom showed Parson their skills.

More students are seeking career training instead of a four-year degree because they can’t afford the ballooning cost of college admission, St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said.

“The cost is prohibitive for so many kids,” he said. “They look at those costs and say ‘wait a minute, I can never go to college.' There’s a total shift that kids are looking at careers much more.”

If Missouri wants to use career training in schools to develop the workforce, it should be more flexible in what it asks of schools, Adams said.

“You need to give them some grace around the school day, and how long they’re going to be in school, and maybe even how many credits they need to have and what kinds of scores they have on certain assessments,” he said.

Career and technical education programs are becoming more common in Missouri schools.

But schools need more money to transport students to career training sites and internships off campus and feed them, said SLPS Director of Career and Technical Education Tony Maltbia.

“There are many companies looking to build their pipelines, they want to be able to invest and know the students can get there, Maltbia said. “But [students] are dependent on busing systems, and it takes them two hours to get to work or three or four bus rides.”

Low teacher pay makes it hard to retain vocational teachers at the city’s schools, said administrators during Parson’s visit.

Many families with students in St. Louis Public Schools can’t afford to pay the initial fees to enroll kids in a career training program, Maltbia said. A funding program reimburses families for such costs, but some families cannot afford to pay up front.

He said the state needs to consider the needs of poor students in big cities when it develops workforce programs.

“We do a lot to try to make it work, we’re thankful we have a governor in our state that does recognize the workforce gap,” Maltbia said. “We want to make sure when these allocations come, they’re thinking about all the students in the state, in these unique places like St. Louis.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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