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Will Trump’s Ambitious Apprenticeship Plan Create Pueblo Manufacturing Hires?

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President Donald Trump, who in part built his fame on the popular NBC show “The Apprentice,” has a lofty goal for apprenticeships in the U.S. And that plan might not mean much for the communities in Colorado that stand to benefit the most from strong apprenticeship education, such as Pueblo where the majority of economic development resources are spent on manufacturing.

In June, Trump issued an executive order that promised 4.5 million more apprenticeships in the next five years.

The order calls for a task force, supporting the implementation of apprenticeship education in more two and four-year universities and “provid(ing) more affordable pathways to secure, high paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and effective workforce development programs, while easing the regulatory burden on such programs and reducing or eliminating taxpayer support for ineffective workforce development programs.”

With the order comes a proposed $95 million budget — $5 million more than what was appropriated in 2016.

So, is adding more than 10 times the number of apprenticeships available now for nearly the same budget realistic?

Not really, said Noel Ginsburg, CEO of CareerWise Colorado, a leading organization in furthering apprenticeship education in the state. Wanting to add 4.5 million more apprenticeships to the economy is a goal that Ginsburg and his organization find themselves aligned with, but when it comes to feasibility, that’s a different story.

Ginsburg, a successful manufacturer from Denver who founded Intertech Plastics at the age of 21, is also vying for a place on the 2018 ballot as a candidate for governor. He announced his candidacy in Pueblo earlier this year, running as what he has described as a moderate Democrat that, like a lot of other candidates, says places outside of Denver feel ignored and are behind the economic growth of Denver.

By 2027 CareerWise hopes to have 20,000 Colorado high school students in apprenticeship programs. The goal was initiated last September when Bloomberg Philanthropies and JPMorgan Chase committed $9.5 million to the program, which will have 250 students involved this year and ideally grow at a rate of 10 percent each year after.

17 employers got on board for the program, along with five school districts.

Ginsburg said CareerWise’s 10 year goal is ambitious, and that’s with several Colorado companies on board and the state as an active partner. Trump’s executive order calls for millions of more apprenticeships with virtually the same budget.

“This model is really designed to serve the majority of Coloradans. If we don’t put the infrastructure in place, it won’t work,” Ginsburg told PULP in an interview. “Ultimately, this model should be paid by businesses because it’s within their interest.”

In many programs a company will pay for the education of a student, in addition to employing the apprentice part time. This is how it works at Pueblo Community College, where there are just two apprenticeship education avenues: electrical maintenance technicians and mechanical maintenance technicians.

Put simply, these technicians are learning how to maintain and fix machinery that may be used in a manufacturing facility. The jobs these apprentices do varies from day to day and it can be extremely complicated and tedious work, said Pueblo Corporate College’s Executive Director Amanda Corum.

The job is a lot of problem-solving, and so the training is extensive and has to cover just about everything an apprentice might run into on the job from mechanics to coding.

Once a four-year apprenticeship program is completed Corum said it’s not uncommon that these students make a yearly salary of around $100,000. On the business end of things, a company may take a bit of a hit by sending a part time employee through an apprenticeship program, but eventually they make that money back with a highly-skilled employee, Corum said.

PCC’s apprenticeship program is small. Only 10 students begin the program each year — and it’s all paid for by private companies. For the program to grow, Corum said, there would have to be more buy in from the companies paying the way for the students, and that can be a challenge.

“Their fear is that this person will get their journeyman card and move on,” Corum said.

But turnover among apprentices tends to be lower. It’s likely a sense of loyalty to the company that fit the bill, Corum said.

So what could a national push for apprenticeships mean for places such as PCC’s highly-specialized programs?

PCC doesn’t receive money directly from the state or federal government. In fact, the entire program is funded by private business. So where money could help is if more of it is offered as an incentive to a business that could send an apprentice to a program, Corum said.

And that has been the case in Pueblo, sometimes. The Pueblo Economic Development Corporation has recruited some companies to Pueblo and recommended to the City of Pueblo that the incentive package include money for apprenticeships.

Ginsburg sees the push for more apprenticeship education, whether it be through the state or from Trump, as a potential game-changer for places such as Pueblo, if the right infrastructure is in place.

“It’s a strategy to address income inequality. If you give the people opportunity to get world-class skills, it attracts world-class business,” Ginsburg said. “This model depends on businesses doing their role, not just as consumers of the students, but to be producers of those skills.”

Corum and Ginsburg both say for a long time there has been a stereotype around apprenticeships that isn’t exactly positive. Skilled education has taken a backseat to four-year degrees.

“Four-year education has been oversold,” Ginsburg said. “That’s not to say that we need less of it. But to say it’s the only path is wrong.”

Attitudes toward apprenticeship education started to shift during the Obama administration, Corum said. Obama signed into law the first-ever annual funding for apprenticeship in the 2016 spending bill — nearly $90 million to support states and companies expanding apprenticeship opportunity.

Obama also boasts adding 75,000 new apprenticeships between 2014 and 2016.

Even so, Trump’s executive order was quick to call out the need for more support and reform of apprenticeship education, especially as “individuals today find themselves with crushing student debt and no direct connection to jobs.”

“Far too many Against this background, federally funded education and workforce development programs are not effectively serving American workers,” the order said.

“Despite the billions of taxpayer dollars invested in these programs each year, many Americans are struggling to find full-time work. These Federal programs must do a better job matching unemployed American workers with open jobs, including the 350,000 manufacturing jobs currently available.”

Corum said the tide on what people think of as good education is starting to turn. And pushes for more skilled job training — like in both the Obama and Trump administrations — may be helping.

But regardless, the next five years for the PCC programs and the potential to expand rely on the needs of Pueblo’s manufacturing base.

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Colorado officials to focus on treatment, enforcement to curb heroin epidemic

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Colorado officials said Tuesday that they hope a two-fold approach will prevent the growth of the state’s heroin epidemic.

Federal and state officials announced plans to focus on prosecuting dealers and use local law enforcement to link people addicted to the drug to treatment options.

According to an updated report also released Tuesday, 228 people died in Colorado in 2016 from heroin overdoses. That’s an increase of 43 percent compared to 2015, when 160 heroin overdose deaths were reported.

Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said his office is working with the Drug Enforcement Agency and local prosecutors to bring federal charges against traffickers of heroin, fentanyl and other dangerous drugs. Federal prosecutions can lead to longer sentences and those convicted serve time in far-flung federal prisons rather than state prisons, sending a warning to other dealers, Troyer said.

“This is not a mass incarceration argument,” Troyer said. “This is an exacting, targeting argument on those causing the most harm.”

The second half of the strategy will encourage local law enforcement to help people addicted to the drug get access to treatment through a state hotline.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said local law enforcement quickly learn to recognize the difference between someone who is dealing and someone who is caught in the grip of addiction.

“We’re doing something that we haven’t done in a long time,” Spurlock said. “And that is go after the pushers but have an equally opposing force on the user and helping those folks get off.”

Under the new plan, officers can contact the hotline directly or encourage people with addiction to use it as a resource.

State health officials said the hotline operators walk callers through the process of finding treatment options.

The effort doesn’t have any new financial backing. Officials with the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Area program said they will direct $4 million in existing funds toward law enforcement task forces aggressively targeting heroin dealers.

“We don’t want to become an East coast, a West Virginia or Ohio,” said Tom Gorman, director of the program. “We want to take a proactive approach and say we want to stop this in Colorado.”

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Denver seeks cannabis tax hike to ease housing crisis

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Denver officials have unveiled a plan that would have marijuana buyers help pay for an expansion of the city’s 10-year, $150 million affordable housing fund.

The Denver Post reports Mayor Michael Hancock and other city officials on Monday unveiled the proposal that, if approved, would increase the city’s 3.5 percent special tax on recreational marijuana sales to 5.5 percent.

The tax hike requires only council approval since Denver voters capped the special local tax at 15 percent when they approved it in 2013.

The city’s shorter-term plan is to subsidize the building or preservation of 3,000 income-restricted apartments and other housing units in the next five years. The Denver Post reports that the proposal would allow the city to up its goal of 3,000 apartments to 6,400.

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Colorado teachers takeover Capitol demanding better school funding

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Hundreds of public school teachers swarmed the Colorado state Capitol on Monday, shuttering one suburban Denver school district to demand better salaries, as lawmakers were set to debate a pension reform measure that would cut retirement benefits and take-home pay.

With the demonstrations, Colorado educators join peers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona who have staged strikes or high-profile protests in recent weeks to draw attention to what teachers unions see as a growing crisis in the profession.

In Colorado the need is especially stark – and apparently at odds with a state economy that ranks among the nation’s best. The average teacher salary – $46,155 in 2016 -ranks 46th among states and Washington, D.C., according to the latest figures from the National Education Association.

By another metric, Colorado’s dead last. The Education Law Center, an advocacy group, said this year that Colorado’s teacher salaries are the worst in the nation “when compared to professionals with similar education levels.”

Teachers rallied in and outside the building Monday, holding signs and chanting slogans including “You left me no choice. I have to use my teacher voice.” They drew honks from passing cars before heading inside, where their cheers and songs resonated throughout the Golden Dome, drawing lawmakers out of their respective chambers to investigate the noise.

Washington, D.C., native Callie Gonyea, who is in her second year teaching at Ellis Elementary School in Denver, said she was surprised to learn that Colorado spending was so far below the national average given the number of people moving to the state and the millions of dollars raised in taxes on legalized marijuana.

“There’s no reason we should be down there,” said the second-grade teacher, who walked outside the Capitol holding a sign that said “We(e’)d like the weed money, man.”

Gonyea said she would like to see more funding to pay for mental health treatment at her school, which has one full-time psychologist. She said her class alone has three students who would benefit from daily check-ins with the therapist.

While recent teacher protests have come in firmly red states, Colorado has a Democratic governor and a Legislature split between Democrats and Republicans, but it has some of the strictest spending limits in the country thanks to a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1992, and all tax hikes require voter approval.

Education advocates have filed statewide ballot measures this year to raise revenue for schools, but past attempts have repeatedly been rejected by voters.

It’s not clear if Colorado’s activism could be a sign of protests spreading to more Democratic-leaning states. There are two blue states are in the bottom half of per pupil spending with Colorado — California at 35 and Oregon at 36.

Monday’s demonstration was organized by the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, which estimated the morning crowd at 400. Englewood Schools Superintendent Wendy Rubin said that over 70 percent of the district’s faculty was expected to be absent so classes were cancelled Monday.

School funding has been at the forefront of the state’s spending fights for years, but organizers said this year’s lobbying day drew additional interest in light of recent demonstrations across the country.

Democratic lawmakers cheered the protests on Monday, stopping to pose for selfies with the teachers. But Republicans questioned the timing of the demonstrations in a year that lawmakers are expected to increase K-12 funding by the largest amount in recent memory.

“As a lifelong educator — I was in education for 40 years — I can see what the concerns are, but quite frankly this year they’re totally unfounded,” said state Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. “I find it kind of ironic that we have the stirring up of the CEA troops and bringing them to the Capitol today when we’re considering a school finance bill this year which has the biggest increase since 2008.”

Colorado currently underfunds its schools by $822 million annually, pinching rural areas in particular, where school districts face teacher shortages. Lawmakers in next year’s budget plan to “buy down” the annual amount owed to schools by $150 million, and boost per-pupil spending by 6 percent. It’s unclear if the additional funding will result in lasting raises in the poorest districts, where superintendents complain of losing teachers to places like Walmart.

A sweeping pension reform effort moving through the Legislature could require districts and teachers alike to contribute more to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which faces an unfunded debt of at least $32 billion. And a property-tax limiting provision of the state constitution is expected to trigger cuts to local school funding in 2019.

Colorado recently ranked 40th in spending per student according to 2013 figures from the National Center for Education Statistics compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project.

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