Throughout my life, the value of a good education has been instilled in me by my parents. My dad is an educator by trade and every opportunity growing up was a lesson in disguise. At some point, I realized my life is better because those around me value education. I was fortunate to be raised in a community that shares that same commitment, and I think this is where my steadfast commitment to education, whether it’s elementary, secondary, post-secondary or technical, comes from.
An educated society is critical for the success of our communities and our state. An educated workforce drives business growth and plays an important role in providing families with the resources they need to thrive. If we are to continue to provide for our families and our futures, we need to have leaders who believe that an educated workforce is critical. To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, we need the best career and technical education we can possibly have; otherwise, Missouri will lose out to other states when it comes to new business relocations and expansions. Part of my job as a state senator includes finding ways we can best-utilize our institutions of higher learning, which includes community colleges and technical schools.
To help prepare our state for the technology of tomorrow, Senate Bill 176 was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law earlier this year. This measure relates to some new emerging technologies. It is vital to the success of our state that the Legislature continues to promote an economic climate where technology and innovation is not only supported, but encouraged to thrive. To attract and retain businesses, we must have a trained and skilled workforce. This is something our schools can offer through trade schools, community colleges and universities.
I serve as vice-chair of the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee and passing a balanced budget is the sole constitutional duty of the Missouri Legislature, and something I take seriously. As a state, we have made a commitment to doing all we can for education, including funding the needs of higher education, which includes technical and community colleges as well as universities.
Take, for instance, the Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant. This is a fairly new financial aid program for adults, who are over the age of 25, that are seeking a certificate or degree in a high-need workforce area. The Legislature added $1 million to this program for Fiscal Year 2022, with $5.7 million allocated for the current fiscal year. By the same token, funding for community colleges has also continued to be increased from $121 million in FY 2020, to $139 million last year, to $154 million for FY 2022. The state has also nearly doubled funding for State Technical College of Missouri, from $5 million in FY 2020 to $8 million for FY 2022.
Why did we make this investment? It’s simple. Employers throughout our state need a skilled and trained workforce, and our community and technical colleges are equipped to meet this demand. They can get people in the door, trained and back out into the workforce quickly in two years or less, with many programs lasting only six months. And because students get out with little or no debt (85%+ graduate with no debt), they can take what they earn and immediately start putting it back into their local economy. They aren’t paying off student loans to some bank in DC, they are buying houses, starting businesses and more.
A jobs projection survey for the Springfield area, the community I represent in the Senate, indicated that three specific jobs will be in high demand over the course of the next five years: registered nurses, truck drivers and machinists and welders. This means thousands of jobs right here in our community, many with salaries starting at $48,000 and only going up. And the best part, our local community colleges can prepare people for these jobs in less than two years.
There will always be a need for doctors, lawyers and teachers, but for some students, those aren’t positions that hold their interest or best utilize their talents, and that’s okay. A skilled workforce has always been a vital part of this country. This is why I will continue to work to fund training programs, certifications and apprenticeships, along with continued support for traditional higher education.
Please feel free to reach out to our office at any time. Our phone number is 573-751-1311, and our mailing address is Room 419, State Capitol Building, Jefferson City, MO 65101.