Even though the budget prognosis for the next biennium is promising, the North Dakota Legislature passed up the opportunity to move the state up a few notches in innovativeness when the House Appropriations Committee stripped Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner’s proposal for career academies out of the proposed budget.
The $60 million proposal would have been included in the state’s bonding program that would be financed by energy revenues.
With oil revenue running 50% higher than Gov. Burgum’s original estimate, the Legacy Fund is flush. We can afford to be innovative.
Career academies timely
Many North Dakotans now in the workforce will be left behind unless the state moves gingerly to provide the means by which they can adapt to the rapidly changing work world.
Now that we have missed the opportunity in the recent session, we will have to wait for another two years to reconsider the proposal. Technology isn’t going to stand still while we are in the grips of indecision and procrastination.
On the front burner today are bold plans for the redefinition of the criminal justice system, the preparation for the decline of employment in the coal sector and the problem of chronic unemployment, all of which require the options that would be provided in career academies.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has spent the past 10 years on policy and programs to reduce the prison population, an effort motivated by cost reduction and closing the gap between prison and community life.
The estimated annual cost of housing a prisoner is between $40,000 and $50,000. Rehabilitation must precede release or the recidivism rate would become indefensible.
Prisoners are now learning some skills but they will need to hit the employment line running to melt into the flow of jobs. They will need the career academies and a certain amount of individualized case management.
Then we have the employees that are in jobs that are disappearing as a normal course of economic change. This is true of employees in the energy industry as well as numerous other disappearing skills.
At the present time, at least one-third of the states are determined to tackle the curse of chronic unemployment. They are trying to require recipients of federal benefits to work or lose their Medicaid and other support programs.
The issue is unresolved, providing a golden opportunity for both parties to fill a policy vacuum once and for all. Unfortunately, this is a very partisan issue.
The Trump administration granted 10 states the authority to invoke the penalty for the chronically unemployed. Republicans think everyone not working is a parasite; Democrats think most nonworkers have legitimate claims and the malingerers are few and far between. So the parties argue from opposite poles.
It would be to the benefit of both ideologies to sit down together and ferret through the chronically unemployed and define the breadth of the problem. Why guess when we can know?
Need skills training
Right now, the “work or no Medicaid” edict has lost in two U.S. district courts and is on appeal.
However, some states have run into a problem implementing the work requirement. Among the chronically unemployed are people without work skills which, in some cases, is why they aren’t working.
If North Dakota ever adopts a firm policy on unemployment, the state would have to provide training tailor-made for the individual problems. Here again, the career academies could fill a critical need in the job market.
The Legislature should reconsider the career academies when it meets in special session for reapportionment.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former state lieutenant governor and professor at UND.