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A grant program that focuses on training students in fields like nursing and computer support is undergoing funding cuts as a result of legislation passed during this year’s regular session.
Two of the Jobs and Education for Texans program’s three funds will downsize this fall — one awarding grants to nonprofit organizations for training low-income students, the other funding scholarships to students in career and technical education programs. Students who are currently receiving money through these funds have already received the remainder of the award money, according to the provisions of House Bill 437, authored by state Rep. John Davis, R-Houston.
The cuts for the program were driven largely by a limitation in existing resources, said Robert Wood, director of economic development and analysis in the state comptroller’s office, which currently administers the JET program.
Approved by the 2009 state Legislature in response to the Texas Works report — which documented a “widening gap between the skills required in today's job market and the number of graduates trained with those skills” — the JET program sought to meet the demand for skilled technical workers.
The Launchpad Fund, which gave nonprofits $10 million starting in the 2010-11 biennium to support career training programs for low-income students, will be replaced by the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education Grant program. The ACE grant program will award about $5 million under a similar model to nonprofits for the next biennium. It will be administered by Austin Community College, which will step into the comptroller's office's current oversight role and appoint an advisory board.
The Career and Technical Scholarship Fund is being eliminated. It originally granted $5 million starting with the 2010-11 biennium directly to community and technical colleges for students with financial need.
A third fund in the JET program, the Job Building Fund, which allotted $10 million beginning in the 2010-11 biennium toward buying equipment for career and technical education programs, will continue to operate as normal.
The Job Building Fund was the easiest to administer and “also the piece that over the long haul would serve more students,” Wood said. “Just as a resource issue, we felt that the equipment issue gave the state the most bang for their buck.”
The program modifications also address what some nonprofit administrators say were challenges in administering the fund.
The Launchpad Fund had a set of eligibility rules “that didn’t really make sense, from a practical standpoint,” said Steve Jackobs, executive director for Capital IDEA, a job-training program that received money through the fund. “That was a challenge for us and our students."
Under those eligibility rules, the fund’s grants were contingent on particular criteria like the potential recipient’s living situation with family members, Jacobs said. “Two poor families living together doesn’t make a rich family, and that’s how the rules interpreted it,” he said.
“We appreciate the comptroller stepping out, creating [the Launchpad Fund and] working to turn over the administration to folks that are closer to the reality of the challenges,” Jackobs said, stressing that other parts of the JET program, like the equipment fund, work well.
Even with the cuts to the ACE grant program, “a reduction is better than a zero budget,” said Minerva Camarena-Skeith, a representative of Austin Interfaith, the nonprofit that helped found Capital IDEA with business community members and advocates for public funding. “It still gives these job-training programs the opportunity to apply for these $5 million, and also be able to leverage more city and local funds.”
“The state funding has always just been a part of the funding of these job training programs,” she added.
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