SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney visited the Union County Vo-Tech campus on Wednesday to discuss the critical importance of the vocational-technical education bond act approved by voters last November. The Securing Our Children's Future Bond Act spurs economic growth, creates access to high-paying jobs and meets the needs of New Jersey’s leading business sectors.

Students from the Magnet High School, Academy for Information Technology (AIT), Academy for Allied Health Science, Union County Vocational-Technical High School and the Academy for Performing Arts highlighted some of the work they have been doing at the Magnet's Maker Space:

  • Anya Nordstrom of Garwood, who attends Magnet High School, demonstrated a robot that her group had built for an upcoming competition.
  • Massimo Del Pizzo of Westfield, also a Magnet High School student, showed Senator Sweeney some 3D designs for the robot and demonstrated what the Makerspace 3D printers are capable of doing.
  • Stephen Mazza, a student from Garwood at AIT demonstrated a Tormak milling machine.

County vocational-technical schools are free public high schools operated at the County level to provide career-focused educational and training for secondary students. Many of them also offer tuition-based career training programs for adults. 

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Why is the expansion of career and technical education important?

New Jersey has a serious skills gap. Companies cannot expand and prosper without a technically trained workforce to fill current job vacancies and expected retirements. The bond act money is for facilities and equipment at vocational schools to develop the state's future workforce. Demand is growing for educational opportunities that prepare young people for well-paying careers that can be launched without the high cost of a four-year college degree.

During a roundtable discussion with Senator Sweeney, Ahmed Ghani of Elizabeth explained how Allied Health is helping him pursue his dream of becoming a cardiologist.

"My grandfather had a heart attack when I was young, and surgeons saved him. I decided it was a career I wanted to pursue," said Ghani, who has logged service hours as an EMT and watched doctors work on a cardiology patient on his first day as an intern at a local hospital. "I've had opportunities here at Allied Health that I would not have had at my local high school."

“Seeing what students are doing at Maker Space, the cutting edge laboratory for technical learning we toured makes it clear how important it was that voters passed the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act,” Senator Sweeney said after touring the program at the Magnet High School for Science, Mathematics and Technology, which is part of the Union County Vocational-Technical Schools.

The bond act approved by New Jersey voters in the November 2018 general election authorized the State to sell up to $500 million in bonds. The $350 million for expansion of career and technical education shops, labs and classrooms at County vocational-technical schools, as well as K-12 school security projects. The law provides $50 million for career and technical education projects at County colleges and $100 million for school district drinking water improvements. The state will repay the bonds at a low interest rate over a period of up to 35 years. The state bonds are repaid out of state revenues, not through local property taxes.

The bonds will pay 75 percent of the cost of projects at County vocational-technical schools and County colleges. The County would pay the remaining 25 percent of the cost.

“New Jersey businesses face a critical shortage of technical-skilled workers, yet our county vocational-technical schools have been turning away 17,000 qualified high school students every year because of a lack of adequate facilities. This $500 million bond issue is an investment in our future, and it will be money well-spent,” he said.

Senator Sweeney toured the program with Judy Savage, Executive Director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, and Gwen Ryan, Interim Superintendent of the Union County Vocational-Technical Schools, and later participated in a roundtable on vocational-technical education needs with students, teachers and administrators.

“There is a real demand from students, parents, and employers for career-focused educational opportunities that prepare young people for high-paying jobs in key industries right here in New Jersey,” said Ms. Savage. “The Bond Act approved by voters last fall will enable county vocational-technical schools to expand facilities and add technical programs that address New Jersey’s skills gap and enable students to launch well-paying careers straight out of high school with an industry credential or with a two-year degree from a county college.”

Superintendent Ryan said the wide range of career and technical education programs at the Union County Vocational-Technical Schools are critical assets for the economic vitality of Union County.

“We have far more demand for our programs than we can accommodate,” Superintendent Ryan said. “The Bond Act will enable us to help more students get a jump start on career preparation during high school to better meet the needs of employers in Union County and our state.”

Senator Sweeney presented the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools with a ceremonial resolution marking February as Career Technical Education Month in New Jersey.

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