Enrollment at the Hartford Job Corps has fallen from 200 to 151 students in the past two months, since an enrollment freeze began, and only one new student has been allowed to enroll.
The governor, Connecticut's two U.S. senators, Hartford's mayor, and a state representative from Hartford all railed against the freeze Tuesday and asked that the public pressure Washington to maintain funding for the program.
Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, used to work at the Job Corps, recruiting employers to hire the graduates.
The freeze began in late January, because private contractors that run the majority of the 125 centers were spending faster than had been budgeted for operations, and the U.S. Department of Labor decided the only way to preserve the opportunities for current students was to freeze new students through June 30. The freeze has two small exceptions: homeless youths and those in foster care are still allowed to join.
Congress passed a law last month that gives the agency permission to shift $30 million from building funds to operations, but when senators asked the administrator of the $1.7 billion program if she would lift the freeze once that law took effect, she was noncommittal.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who was one of the questioners in that hearing, told a group of students, graduates and would-be students standing outside the center: "It makes absolutely no sense to arbitrarily freeze enrollment. It's time to say enough is enough."
The students murmured, "That's right."
Murphy ticked off successful statistics from the Hartford center, which spends about $6.8 million a year. In the 12 months that ended Jan. 31. 63 percent of students who entered without a high school degree either got a traditional diploma or a GED. About 60 percent of the 243 students who started in the last year didn't have that credential when they entered. In the past year, 72 percent completed career training.
Of the graduates, 88 percent either had a job, joined the military. or went to college at the time they left the Job Corps. Of those who found jobs, their average wage was $10.51, and 74 percent had jobs related to their vocational training.
One of those successful grads was Devin Dunk, 21, who had dropped out of high school and could not find a job in 2009, 2010 and 2011, even after he received his GED in 2011.
A few months after he got his GED, he moved to the Hartford Job Corps and studied manufacturing for a year. In July, Dunk was hired at Acme Monaco in New Britain as a toolmaker apprentice at $10 an hour, and has gotten a raise to $11 an hour.
Dunk has been taking a series of three buses from his mother's in East Hartford to New Britain to be at work by 6:30 a.m. every day, and in a month, he plans to move into his own apartment in New Britain.
"I didn't think it would happen this soon at all," he said about his new path to financial independence and a career. "I didn't have any hope at all before I came here."
George Fournier, vice president of Acme Monaco in New Britain, said he had never hired a Job Corps graduate before Dunk, but now he is a believer. "We really need the Hartford Job Corps," he told the gathering of students. "I'd hate to see it diminished."
Center director Tami Schweikert said the Department of Labor has said Hartford will be limited to 157 students at a time in the next year — a reduction at a time that the Hartford center has turned itself around. As recently as two years ago, it ranked near the bottom in effectiveness. A new contractor took the center over three and a half years ago.
The most recent statistics put it at 12th best in the country.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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