Workforce investment update run by legislative panel

Staff Report

FRANKFORT — Lawmakers received a rundown of a newly created $100 million workforce development bond pool and a $15 million dual credit scholarship program from Kentucky workforce development officials on Friday.

Department of Workforce Investment Commissioner Beth Kuhn and Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Chief of Staff Andy Hightower told the Interim Joint Committee on Labor and Industry that the pre-application process for the bond pool, funded by lawmakers in the 2016 legislative session, will be announced in a few weeks. The dual credit program, announced by Governor Matt Bevin and Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner early this month, will be funded beginning next school year.

The bond pool – which Heiner has called “the one shiny ornament on the Christmas tree” — will be used to fund construction, renovation, equipment purchases and first-year marketing for industry/education workforce training partnerships across the state, said Hightower. He said the state plans to roll out the program in accordance with 2016 House Bill 626, the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program bill vetoed by the governor this spring.

“It’s our intention to take the direction that the General Assembly put forward in HB 626 and put that into action as soon as possible,” said Hightower.

It will be a few more weeks before the pre-application process for funding is unveiled by the state, he said, with a long-form application process to follow.

What is already in place, Hightower assured lawmakers, is the objective of the bond fund: to build workforce partnerships that leverage every available workforce investment dollar and follow the directives of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The 2014 federal law is designed to help the unemployed succeed in the job market and match employers with skilled workers they need.

“The idea is that we can train students by the day and adults by night,” said Hightower. “The demand is strong … from students and the demand from employers both. It will provide a real opportunity where employers can say ‘This is what we need.’”

Rep. Larry Clark, D-Okolona, said he believes employers should be able to furnish their own equipment for employee training. The longtime and current member of the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, which advises the governor on workforce development issues, encouraged the Cabinet to give employers some “skin in the game.”

“Maybe the smaller employers can’t do it, but some of our larger employers—they have the capacity to help us leverage that money,” said Clark.

Hightower also gave a detailed explanation of the dual credit scholarship program. Announced by the governor and Secretary Heiner at Russell County High School on June 1, the program will provide $7.5 million in each of the next two school years to provide dual credit scholarships for every high school senior in the state, Hightower told the committee. Students will be able to take up to two dual credit courses at no cost to them, according recent news reports on the program.

Dual credit allows high school students to earn both college and high school credit by successfully completing approved coursework. And, while dual credit courses have been offered in Kentucky for decades, Hightower said the goal of this new program is to eventually make dual credit a requirement for high school graduation in Kentucky.

“But we need to make sure we can get the system in place before we can move in that direction,” he said.

Tuition costs under the program will be capped at around $154 per dual credit course—or 33 percent of the cost of a course at Kentucky Community and Technical College System—with funding awarded based on a student’s “successful completion” of coursework, said Hightower. Any unused funds will be distributed among those schools that have had the most success with their dual credit programs, he said.

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said he sponsored legislation in 2015 that would have allowed high school juniors and seniors to use their KEES (Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship) fund to pay for dual credit courses. He asked Hightower if the Bevin administration would support that idea.

“There’s KEES money sitting out there a lot of kids don’t end up using because they don’t even go to (college),” he added.

Hightower said dual credit expansion is a “top priority” of the administration and “we would be very open to a conversation about all of the scholarship funding that’s available in Kentucky and how it might best be applied.”

Clark said he has talked with the administration about possibly using some KEES money for work apprenticeship programs. He said talks have been positive and “I think that’s going to happen hopefully in the next session.”

The committee also received a briefing on Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN. That policy, passed by Congress in 1988, requires certain employers who plan to lay off 50 or more workers to give those workers at least 60 days’ notice. Other employers anticipating layoffs or closings are also encouraged to notify the state, regardless of how many employees will be affected, said Kuhn.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, asked the Cabinet if it would support even stricter rules for employee layoff notification. He mentioned sudden layoffs at a Ryan’s restaurant in his area in the discussion.

“(Employees) just came in one day and were told they were closing that evening,” said Nelson.

Kuhn said she would be agreeable to discussing whether the process could be fine-tuned. “We’re always happy to have conversations about improving the services that we provide,” she said.

Staff Report


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