Legislators learn budget lessons from career and technical programs

Wednesday morning Jamie Acker was asking his materials science students at Olympic High School, what would happen if he turned on a light bulb that was missing ... well, it’s bulb.

“I thought we said oxygen is not our friend,” Acker pointed out when a student suggested that without the glass, a fuse would burn brighter.

Students from the back rows got up and raised themselves on tip toes to see the experiment at the front of class. The fuse of the light bulb smoked and burned out quickly, forming a white powder one of Acker’s students identified as tungsten oxide.

Preoccupied with the experiment, the teacher and most students had not noticed a group of guests who also were observing the glass-less light. Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island) and Rep. Beverly Woods (R-Kingston) edged into the classroom around 9:30 a.m. as part of a tour of Career and Technical Education programs.

CTE director Bruce McBurney invited the state legislators. He and Keith Van Hook, chairperson of the CTE General Advisory Council, accompanied the pair on their day-long visit to several OHS and Central Kitsap High School programs.

Rockefeller was impressed with the applied learning he observed during the light bulb experiment.

“Teaching people how things work is so fundamental ...,” he said. “And it will stick with them for a lifetime when they learn it that way.”

Walking from Acker’s classroom to the auto shop, Woods said one of the most important things she learned early on in the tour is the opportunities that now exist for high school students to earn college credit while participating in CTE courses.

That credit transfer is made easy through a Tech Prep partnership between CK, five other local school districts, West Sound Technical Skills Center and Olympic College.

Students in Rich Bennett’s auto shop class at OHS, for example, would need to invest merely $10 for an application fee to receive dual credit at OC and the high school.

But the lessons the legislators learned from their visit weren’t all bright.

Woods, who had to leave early for another meeting, toured most of the OHS programs. She asked Bennett if the automotive industry businesses donate used, but not yet out of date, equipment for high school auto shop programs. Bennett explained that happens, but less and less often.

Rockefeller, sitting at one of the student desks when Bennett was presenting the movies he can now show his class about the inner-workings of a motor, asked the instructor what budget the class operates on.

Half of what is needed, came the reply, which leaves the program in budgetary predicaments annually. Last year, Bennett said, buying one piece of new equipment for $7,000 left him with $3,000 for the year to replace broken tools.

“This year hopefully nothing’s going to break and I can get a piece of equipment at the end of the year,” he added, clutching his hands together and smiling.

One of McBurney’s motivators for organizing the tour was the idea that legislators’ direct interaction with teachers and students will help inform them first-hand of such funding gaps.

McBurney belongs to the executive board of the Washington Association for Career and Technical Education. The state ACTE organization planned a meeting for today and yesterday to revise its request for a $75 million funding sum it first presented in Olympia in the last legislative session.

Due to the state deficit, the $25 million chunk ACTE asked for in 2005 was unheeded.

According to a fall 2004 equipment survey, the total funding, spread over five years, is needed to keep equipment up to date in programs across the state, such as the materials science and auto shop courses at OHS.

Rockefeller, who is on the Senate’s K-12 and Higher Education Committee, said he has

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