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Rochester lawmaker wants to bring P-TECH program to Minnesota schools

Rochester lawmaker wants to bring P-TECH program to Minnesota schools

State Senator Carla Nelson is proposing legislation that she hopes will aid in the state’s workforce needs, as well as close the achievement gap.

The Rochester Republican, and chair of the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee, has authored a bill to bring a collaborative educational model known as P-TECH to Minnesota schools.

P-TECH, which stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, works by bringing together high schools, community colleges, and industry partners to prepare students for 21st century careers.

“It is a model that breaks down those barriers between high school and post-high school training — something we have often tried to do and talked about, but haven’t been so successful at,” Nelson told us in an interview.

The idea behind P-TECH is to provide courses for students 9th -14th grade (the final two being post-secondary) that allow them to graduate with industry credentials or an industry-recognized associate degree, along with experience in an internship or apprenticeship.

Nelson believes the effect of the program would be three-fold. By offering open enrollment, she said, it could help close the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers. It could also relieve the burden of student debt and provide the talent the state needs to remain competitive.

“Our workforce crisis is impacting our economic growth… we just don’t have the workforce we need,” said Nelson. “Minnesota also has some of the highest per-student college debt in the nation. This will address that.”

P-TECH began as a small movement in 2011 in Brooklyn, New York, and has since more than 500 industry partners and 77 community colleges have participated. IBM, which maintains a presence here in Rochester, was a co-founder of the program. It now works with more than 110 schools.

While some successful case studies have been documented, official data supporting P-TECH is yet to be available. Groups such as the Institute of Education Sciences are working to examine some of the first P-TECH schools that opened in New York but data is not expected until 2022.

Meantime, back here in Minnesota, the bill from Nelson has already attracted bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.

Nelson told us she has spoken to Governor Tim Walz about the program. Walz is proposing a $733 million increase to state education funding for initiatives such as special education, pre-kindergarten programs, school safety expenses, and recruiting and retaining teachers of color. Republicans currently hold the majority in the Senate; therefore, Nelson and Walz will have to work together to decide where funding is allocated.

Angelina Buffa is a freelance writer and health science student living in Rochester. She previously served as the editor-in-chief for RCTC's Echo newspaper, during which time she received a second-place award for column writing from the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

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