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Lawmakers Turn Focus to Career/Tech Education

Sen. Patrick (R-Houston) hopes to announce his election plans this summer.
Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune
Sen. Patrick (R-Houston) hopes to announce his election plans this summer.

Over the last several legislative sessions, lawmakers have been focusing on increasing the rigor of high school courses. With the goal of getting every student ready to attend college. Some business leaders say that’s come at the expense of career and technical education.

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

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

“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 Houston Republican, State Senator Dan Patrick, 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 4 year college, a two year college, get a certificate."

Patrick says that flexibility will 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 needs to realize not everyone in high school wants to go to college. But each graduate still needs a high-quality education. And, he said, Toyota needs more of them.

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

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.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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