BOCES advocates gave state lawmakers Wednesday a simple lesson in supply and demand:
As employers clamor for more students trained in BOCES career and technical programs, the supply is simply not keeping up.
It’s not that students don’t want to enroll in popular BOCES programs in everything from the trades to manufacturing to health care. The problem is a lack of state funding is forcing too many districts to limit how many students can attend the regional BOCES programs.
The state’s onerous property tax cap is also discouraging enrollment.
“We have employers literally begging us for kids,” said David Shalke, an automotive and technology CTE teacher at Monroe 1 BOCES. “The kids want to come — but the districts are being forced to limit enrollment.”
“You have a student who really wants to be a nurse, but her home district is saying, ‘Sorry, we can only send three or four kids,’” said Sandie Carner-Shafran of Saratoga-Adirondack BOCES Education Association. “For many kids, it’s killing their dreams. If we can’t provide this education for kids, where are they going to get it from?”
Shalke and Carner-Shafran were just two of more than 150 BOCES advocates who took part in a statewide lobby day in Albany on Wednesday. The BOCES Lobby Day is different from most because it includes students, educators, administrators and board members all advocating together, side by side.
“Tell your personal stories,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta urged participants at an early morning briefing session. “That’s what lawmakers will remember when they’re making budget decisions.”
With so many new lawmakers this year, NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said it’s essential for advocates to explain what they do and how their innovative programs are working. “And after today’s visits, be sure to invite them to see your programs in action,” she said.
Lawmakers heard from a wide variety of students who put a face on the incredible depth and breadth of BOCES programs. In a meeting with Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, students poignantly told how they were bullied in their home districts and now thriving in a smaller, more-personalized alternative high school program at Capital Region BOCES. Other students talked about how BOCES opened their eyes to new career options and they were headed for good-paying jobs as electricians and HVAC technicians.
BOCES activists on the Assembly floor with Assemblymember Carrie Woerner. Photo by Andrew Watson.
Juliet Suarez, who wants to be an exotic animal specialist, told lawmakers the veterinary science program at Southern Westchester BOCES has been a perfect fit for her.
“It’s much smaller and more personalized than my huge high school,” she said. “There’s a tremendous sense of family because we love what we do and we’re happy to be there.”
Suarez, who was joined at the lobby day by her mom, is planning to continue her education at SUNY Stony Brook and eventually become a veterinarian.
Since he couldn’t bring his incarcerated students, Southern Westchester BOCES counselor Kevin McAllister did the next best thing. He gave lawmakers a flash drive with a brief video featuring two jailed youths who are turning their lives around through BOCES programming.
“Sometimes you have to think outside the box to get the legislators’ attention,” McCallister said. “Some of the lawmakers popped the flash drive right in their laptops and watched the video right then and there. The response was really positive.”