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Bill Would Aid Students Seeking Vocational Training

In recent years, state lawmakers have focused on increasing the rigor of high school courses, hoping to prepare students for college. But some business leaders say that has come at the expense of career and technical education, and they're hoping for legislative change.

Sen. Dan Patrick R-Houston, listens to Attorney General Greg Abbott during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Feb. 5, 2013. What will the balance of power look like between the incoming lieutenant governor and governor?

Mario Lozoya, with Toyota Texas, whose plant is located in San Antonio, told the Senate Public Education Committee on Tuesday that the plant is "the high tech" manufacturing facility in South Texas. That's why he regularly visits Central Texas high schools to make sure students are being trained to meet the plant’s job skill requirements.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

But he said that on many occasions, those expectations are not being met.

<--break->"It pains me when I go into a bay in Career Technology Automotive and there’s a '73 Chevy, with the instructor teaching the kids how to do Bondo on a fender," Lozoya said. "That’s not relevant to current industry needs."

Lozoya said Toyota even occasionally sends out its own staff to teach students how to work on modern cars. But Toyota and other businesses can only do so much, which is why state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has filed a bill he says would help students interested in skilled trades like plumbing, electrical work and auto repair.

"I want to raise the level of what I call blue-collar work with ... the ability to go to college. My dad was a blue collar guy. I’m really a blue-collar guy that wears a white shirt and a tie to work," Patrick said. "But I just believe that students need the flexibility to go to a four-year college, a two-year college, get a certificate."

Patrick said that flexibility would come, in part, from offering tech-based classes that could replace core classes in math and science while meeting the rigorous standards of the state’s accountability system.

Lozoya said the state must realize that not everyone in high school wants to go to college. But each graduate still needs a high-quality education, he said, and Toyota needs more of them.

"Over 80 percent of our employees require high school diploma or less, GED," he said. "But they have to have the cognitive skills of science, engineering, technology and math to be successful."

He said Toyota has never been able to fill those jobs only with Texas workers — a goal he hopes would be achievable with Patrick’s bill.

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