A law recently passed by the 85th Texas Legislature could allow more opportunities for real-world experience for thousands of Texas high-school students in career and technology education programs, local officials said.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 639, written by State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, into law May 26. The measure allows public and charter schools to buy accident and liability insurance to cover juniors and seniors in internships, easing liability concerns and costs that stood in the way of partnerships between local businesses and school districts, Anderson said Thursday.
“The pioneers here in our community helped set this up,” Anderson said. “This will be a template for the state of Texas and it will give those youngsters an opportunity to get established in an industry, even if they decide they want to go to college after all. They can make money doing the trade and learning the skills. It really is a win-win situation.”
The bill fills a gap educators and lawmakers discovered in implementing a law the 83rd Legislature passed to give students more flexibility in choosing graduation plans. The change allows graduation plans tailored for students who plan to enter the workforce after graduation. Previously, the only options were tailored to serve students bound for traditional four-year colleges.
As schools started new career and technology education programs, businesses weren’t as open to the idea of letting working-age students get out in the field as the schools had hoped, said Donna McKethan, Waco ISD’s career and technology education director.
She and local industry leaders worked on the bill with Anderson, McKethan said.
Child labor laws allow a business’ insurance to cover a full-time, fully trained employee under the age of 18, but the part-time internships the school districts needed didn’t fit, she said.
Businesses’ liability concerns meant that, while students were able to get professional training in class, they weren’t able to use those skills in the real world, and officials couldn’t develop the direct class-to-workforce pipeline they hoped for, McKethan said.
This put a kink in how schools, including Waco ISD’s Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy and Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy could operate. Both schools offer career and technology programs for students in districts throughout McLennan County.
With GWAMA on the verge of opening a construction science program with local business partners, and other school districts pursuing similar opportunities, the bill makes it easier for school districts to offer skill certificates, McKethan said. It will also help create more options for Waco ISD’s already thriving summer internship program next year, she said.
“This is going to benefit everyone from the welder to the technician, even to the culinary arts, because that big mixer with the hook is hazardous equipment if you’re under 18,” McKethan said. “It’ll benefit everybody, but it was the construction folks, the AGC (Associated General Contractors of America) and the builders’ association that really helped work with Doc to put this together.”
McKethan said she is unsure how much the insurance coverage the new law allows could cost the school district. And while some companies already offer insurance programs covering students in workforce environments, Anderson and McKethan said the measure will help create a competitive marketplace.
The law will help local companies keep the skilled workers coming out of Waco ISD’s programs in the area, said Scott Bland, president of the Heart of Texas Builders Association.
“We had no intention of developing talent for Dallas, Austin, Houston or San Antonio,” Bland said. “These paid internships allow our guys to essentially get their hooks on these kids.
“These are talented kids, and they need to stay here where we need them. By building those relationships, when that student graduates and gets ready to move on to more advanced certification or they’re ready to work, they’re going to look back at the guy they just spent a year with or the guy that believed in them and gave them a chance as a high school student and be more likely to stay here, developing our community.”