Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

NJ Advance Media for – New Jersey’s vocational-technical schools, including some of the state’s top specialized high schools, are turning away students and need an influx of cash to upgrade and expand, top state lawmakers said Tuesday.

Voters would be asked to approve a major bond issue — perhaps as much as $300 million to $400 million — to expand and equip the state’s vo-tech schools, under a plan proposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and state Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen).

“Expanding high-quality vocational-technical education is critical to our state’s future economic growth and the prosperity of our workforce,” Sweeney said at a press conference. “Our excellent county vocational-technical schools were forced to turn away 15,500 qualified applicants last year, even though our increasingly high-tech employers have job vacancies they cannot fill due to a shortage of middle-skilled workers.”

The bond question would appear on the November 2018 ballot, if approved by the state legislature and the governor. The goal is to use the money to train more students to work in manufacturing, bio-tech and other industry jobs, lawmakers said.

Vo-tech schools, which traditionally trained students in welding, cosmetology and other fields, have expanded in recent decades to include more high-tech offerings. Many county vo-tech districts have started specialized high schools for top students, including High Technology High School in Monmouth County and Union County Magnet High School, that rank among the hardest-to-get-into in the state.

Vo-tech school leaders said they would welcome an influx of money.

“While the demand varies by county and by program, on a statewide average, there are almost 2.4 applicants for every available seat in our schools,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. “The time is right for a major investment in high quality career and technical education programs, which are provided most cost-effectively at the county level, where students from all local schools can have access to the programs and specialized equipment.”

A newly-created, bi-partisan Legislative Manufacturing Caucus will meet in Paterson next month to come up with a package of legislation that will include the bond proposal, lawmakers said. The panel will recommend how much the state should propose borrowing for the vo-tech schools, though Sweeney estimated the bond question would ask taxpayers to approve between $300 million and $400 million.

District Offices

Gloucester County
Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752

Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808
Fax: (856) 339-9626