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Wittman's Weekly: Stronger Workforce of Tomorrow

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Washington, January 18, 2020 | comments
It all starts with a spark, a twinkle in the eye of a student who has found her passion, solidified his future. She might have just completed a career and technical education (CTE) program in manufacturing technology. He may have figured out a high-level math problem. One thing is sure: These two students are on their way to achieving their dreams even before receiving a high school diploma.

But the United States is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to enrolling students in CTE programs and we must instead be setting our students up for success. Currently, businesses across America are facing a severe talent shortage due to a lack of vocational education and technical training. One of my top priorities is ensuring our students cultivate the skill sets needed to thrive in today’s workforce.

The 529 program, that is used to save money for college, is an excellent tool for parents and students looking to save for the future – however, not all students are headed to a 2-year or 4-year college. Right now, only colleges, vocational schools, universities, or other post-secondary institutions are considered an eligible 529 education savings account expense. I, along with my colleague, Rep. Spanberger introduced a piece of legislation to fix this: The Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act.

Our legislation would give individuals in Virginia and across the country the freedom to use their “529” savings accounts to cover the costs of certain workforce training and credentialing programs. Additionally, the bill would allow students to use their 529 funds to pay for associated costs related to certification exams and maintaining certification credentials. Specifically, the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act would amend current law to allow workers and students to use their 529 accounts to pay for training or credentialing programs recognized by a state government or the federal government—or widely recognized as providing reputable credentials in the occupation. Simultaneously, the bill would maintain the current allowable uses for 529 expense accounts—such as colleges and vocational schools.

This is only one of the steps I am taking to promote all paths of higher education. Last year, I hosted the inaugural meeting of my First District CTE Task Force, which works to bring educators and industry together to encourage teamwork in establishing apprenticeship and internship programs in addition to formulating curriculum to best prepare students to enter the workforce. I have also introduced other pieces of legislation including the PROPEL Act which would expand access to career and technical education by opening up Pell Grants for short-term vocational or technical training, apprenticeships, or on-job training, and the STEM Research and Education Effectiveness and Transparency Act, which would promote the participation of women and minorities in STEM fields.

It is our job as legislators to ensure that our students have the opportunity to succeed – and I will continue working in Congress to promote a stronger education system and a stronger workforce of tomorrow.
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