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Bill makes high school apprenticeship programs a priority

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Monday, June 25, 2018  |  Article  |  By Scot Bertram

Education reform (38) , Education--Elementary and Secondary (36) Weaver, Chuck -- State Senate, 37
Illinois high school students soon could have a new option to help prepare them for a future career.

A measure has passed the general assembly that would make it easier for students to take part in registered apprenticeship programs while in school. State Sen. Chuck Weaver, R-Peoria, was a sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber.

“We’ve historically had a difficult time with high school students getting into apprenticeship programs,” Weaver said. “There’s just a tremendous number of mandates that are required by local districts. What this does is says that a student is allowed to work in an apprenticeship program starting at age 16 and the local school district has the authority to waive mandates that will allow the student to do that.”

The bill would require the state board of education to adopt rules to allow districts to waive certain non-academic graduation requirements that otherwise could stop students from being able to participate in an apprenticeship. Weaver said each case likely will be treated differently.

“I’m a big believer in local control, so it’s going to come down to what a local district thinks it’s appropriate to waive,” Weaver said. “It could be physical education if the student is active in other ways around the school or outside the school. But that will be totally controlled by the local district.”

Weaver said he is optimistic the program will help students get a head start on landing a job after graduation.

“I do a business visit every week,” Weaver said. “What I’ve heard from manufacturing facilities is one of the most important things we can do to grow the economy is to have a good workforce. I know right now there’s a shortage of manufacturing workers in Illinois. There’s a lot of positions to be filled and we need to prepare our students for those positions.”

According to a recent report from the Century Foundation and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute, there were more than 16,000 unfilled job openings in the Illinois manufacturing sector, many that don’t require more than a high school degree as formal education.

According to the bill, the standards of any apprenticeship program would need to be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. Weaver said he expects demand among students to be be high.

“I would encourage parents and students to go to a guidance counselor as early as possible,” Weaver said. “Different schools are going to have different desires as to if they want to offer this program, but I’ve always found school boards are receptive when parents and students come forward with a legitimate request.”

It’s not known when the bill might be sent to the governor’s desk for action. The measure was approved with unanimous support in both the House and Senate.