Sen. Franken pushes grants to forge school, career links

Sen. Al Franken speaks on Capitol Hill
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee member Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 31, 2017.
Alex Brandon | AP File

Sen. Al Franken plans to introduce a bill to provide grants for partnerships between schools and industries like health care, engineering and technology.

"There are businesses that have job openings, and they can't find the people with the right skills. We have people who want jobs and don't have the right skills," said the Minnesota DFLer at an event Monday in St. Paul that included school and business leaders.

Franken recently toured Minnesota schools to see career training programs already underway. Part of the money in Franken's initiative would be set aside for rural and native communities.

At Monday's event, two Alexandria Area High School students said they've gotten specialized training through a new high school model where students choose a career area starting in 10th grade. Options include business, manufacturing and health care careers.

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Burnsville High School senior Guadalupe Genis Jimenez is in her school's new certified nursing assistant training program.

"It's taught me that — hey, do I really want to go into the medical field, is this something I want to do for the rest of my life? And the answer is yes, I am prepared for that adventure," Jimenez said.

Rochester Public Schools offers classes at a new facility on the Rochester Community and Technical College campus. Students are bused to the center for classes during the school day and get mentoring from local businesses.

"Everybody realizes that we've got a demographics problem. The baby boomers are retiring. We need to be able to provide this important training for students as early as possible," said Aaron Benike, president of Rochester-based Benike Construction.

Franken's proposal comes at an uncertain time for federal education funding. The Trump administration's budget proposal called for deep cuts to the Education Department and the elimination of several programs. Franken said he talked to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about making career training a priority.

"After the hearing I went right up to (DeVos) because she talked about this, she talked about workforce training. And I went up to her and I said, 'Look I may not vote for you, but ... I want to work with you on workforce,' and she said 'yeah,'" Franken said.