Vocational schools lack in students enrolled

BOSTON — “I have an extreme labor shortage. I have no people. The average age of an electrician is 56. The average age of a plumber is 57. I have no contractors under the age of 50. I have no people of color even applying,“ says Nina Haskell, owner of Dream Kitchens.

She says she’s losing out on a 30% bump in business because contractors, plumbers, and other tradespeople are in high demand.

Tom Fischer of the Carpenters Training Fund can’t train apprentices fast enough, and he says they’re coming to him with fewer skills.

“For every two carpenters that are returning we have one apprentice coming into the program,“ says Fischer.

At a Thursday virtual news conference, advocates called on the state Department of Elementary and Secondary education and Governor Baker to change the vocational and technical school admissions to a lottery system claiming the current criteria is discriminatory toward low income, students of color, and English language learners.

Right now students are accessed on their GPA, attendance records, discipline records, and sometimes a student interview.

“We have to make it a lottery because if not, we gonna continue to create generational poverty that we will never be able to get out,” says Gladys Vega of Chelsea’s La Collabortativa.

The Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN) says the student acceptance rate to VOC-tech schools is 60% for kids of color compared to more than 70% for white kids.

58.5% of students accepted are economically disadvantaged, compared to 75.4% who aren’t.

’'Many black and Latino students and students of lower-income families by means of exclusionary admission policies which are unlawful “says Juan Cofield of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP.

DESE officials declined to comment but tell Boston 25 the department is analyzing the process and collaborating with community organizations and school districts to increase applications from underrepresented students.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell says he’s frustrated with what he calls are “half measures” by the state.

“The process that we’ve had in place has given vocational schools license to cherry-pick their students, to build classes that are higher performing, and to boost their school’s overall test scores, “ says Mitchell.

Six VOC-tech schools have reportedly been identified by the state for admissions discrepancies including students with disabilities, low-income students, students of color, and English language learners.

Commissioner Riley is expected to make a recommendation on admission standards at the school board’s meeting next month, and then it will go to a vote or public comment.