Supporters of Bridges Academy, the Brainerd area education initiative designed to steer young people into good-paying, high-demand jobs, might have to settle for half a loaf this legislative session.
Sponsors of the bill, Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, said it's likely the final education bill will include some money for high school students to take concurrent classes in association with Central Lakes College in fields in which area businesses are seeking skilled employees.
What isn't in the bill, Ward said, is money for work force development to help area businesses that will participate in the program.
"The chamber and businesses are looking to secure some additional dollars in private grants," he said. "There were huge numbers (of students) registered for Bridges Academy. My understanding is it's going to move forward."
Koering said former lawmaker Joe Opatz, CLC vice president of academic affairs, has been at the Capitol and has been good at keeping on top of the issue. Koering said a representative from Sen. LeRoy Stumpf's office told him Wednesday that the language has been tweaked a bit. Stumpf is chair of the E-12 Education Budget Division.
"There's going to be money available for them to apply for, at least thus far," Koering said. "So there's money available. How much, I don't know. So we can kind of move forward with this project."
Bridges Academy and Workplace Connection, a pilot partnership, includes the chamber, CLC, five area school districts and area businesses. Participating school districts are Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, Pillager and Staples-Motley.
An attempt to specifically earmark $1.6 million for a three-year project was unsuccessful.
Lisa Paxton, chief executive officer of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, described the chamber's ongoing efforts as a "leap of faith" because of the unlikelihood of state funding for the Workplace Connection aspect of the education initiative. The chamber is pursuing funding from grants, businesses and individuals.
"It's really a critical component," she said of the workplace learning part of the program.
The chamber, she said, is reallocating $65,000 of its funds (mostly staff time) for the first year. In order for the Workplace Connection portion of the three-year pilot project to be successful, she said, the following is needed, above and beyond the chamber commitment: $100,000 for the startup year and $60,000 to $70,000 for each of the following two years.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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