Obama to announce federal grants to help prepare students for careers

President Obama visited a high school in Prince George’s County on Monday to announce the recipients of a new federal grant that is designed to better align the education system to meet the demands of the labor market.

Twenty-four awards, totaling $107 million, will be given across the country to partnerships of education agencies, workforce investment boards, universities and corporations to help them re­design learning so students will graduate “with the knowledge, skills, and industry-relevant education needed to get on the pathway to a successful career, including post-secondary education or registered apprenticeship,” according to a White House official.

“We commend the president in the way he has brought this discussion to the forefront,” said Steve DeWitt, deputy executive director at the Association for Career and Technical Education. “He has been a real leader on this issue.”

The grant program, known as Youth CareerConnect and originally announced last year, is a collaboration between the federal departments of Labor and Education.

Obama’s visit to Bladensburg High School, just miles outside the District, continues the president’s pledge to use executive authority to move forward in areas where Republicans have not supported him. On Tuesday, the president is scheduled to announce two executive actions regarding equal pay laws for women.

The Youth CareerConnect recipients include the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is receiving a $7 million grant to build career academies in six high schools that will focus on health care, biotechnology and other technology-related industries; the New York City Education Department, which is getting nearly $7 million to fund two “early college” high schools where students can obtain associate’s degrees; and the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp., which is receiving $7 million to enhance its career academies at high schools across the county.

At Bladensburg High, where Obama announced the funding Monday, plans are underway to expand the school’s Health and Biosciences Academy. Bladensburg students who focus on health professions will be able to earn certifications in nursing and pharmacy, and biomedical students will be able to earn college credits from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The program also will give students access to internships with employer partners such as Lockheed Martin. County officials say the grant will help 2,500 graduates become career-ready in information technology and health care.

Prince George’s County Schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell said the county’s grant proposal was a collaboration between the school system, economic development officials, Dimensions Healthcare and the county community college. “That’s how we have to move forward,” he said. “We have to work together.”

DeWitt said Youth Career­Connect is an acknowledgment of the “skills gap” students face when they graduate.

“A lot of our members would likely say, ‘Finally there is more recognition for post-secondary programs,’ ” DeWitt said. “It needs to be about multiple pathways for students. That’s what needs to happen to improve education and the economy.”

Nancy Hoffman, vice president of Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group involved in workforce development and education issues, said the financial crisis “caused everybody to do rethinking about what you learn in school and the careers to become a productive adult.”

Boston-based Jobs for the Future will receive a $4.9 million grant to expand and implement “rigorous and engaging career pathway models that take young people from ninth grade through industry credentials and an associate’s degree in high-demand fields,” the White House official said. The grant will fund programs in three regions in Massachusetts, focusing on information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care.

Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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