Fast Track, a $22.2 million statewide grant program, is swiftly on the move in the Missouri House of Representatives, Gov. Mike Parson said Friday at a workforce roundtable in Springfield.
The governor attended the roundtable at SMC Packaging Group with House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, business executives, state officials and Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce representatives to discuss state workforce needs. Stressing that Fast Track is one of the top legislative priorities for his administration, Parson said his office is determined to work with the House and Senate to get the workforce incentive grant legislation across the finish line this session.
“This is significant when I say that because this is moving quickly through the House,” he said, adding it has already passed the House Workforce Development Committee, and it was under discussion last week in the Senate Education Committee. “I want to say this is a piece of fast-track legislation and it’s moving fast.”
Legislation for the workforce incentive program targets individuals ages 25 and older with an average household income of $80,000 or less. The grants aim to help nontraditional students get degrees in high-demand fields, such as computer science, health care and advanced manufacturing. Full tuition and fees for up to four semesters are covered by the grants.
House Bill 225, proposed by Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, and Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, are both seeking implementation of the grant program.
Parson said Fast Track is designed to help meet state workforce needs by boosting post-secondary educational opportunities for adults. Cultivating and training the workforce for high-demand jobs is vital to move the state forward, he added.
“The simple reality is post-secondary education is required for many jobs in the 21st century,” he said. “We have fallen behind here in Missouri preparing our people for the demands of the workforce.”
Missouri Department of Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan, who also attended the roundtable, said Friday the estimated student reach for Fast Track is 16,000. She said the program needs to cast a wide net to make a real difference.
“You really need programs that have the ability to reach an entirely new population, and we believe adults are going to be really key to that,” she said.
Mulligan said the financial impact for program participants could be significant, noting people who make $30,000-$40,000 a year potentially could have annual earnings reach $50,000-$60,000 after earning a certificate through Fast Track.
“It’s a different quality of life with a different level of opportunity for you and for your kids,” she said.
SMC Packaging Group CEO Kevin Ausburn said his company, which employs 475 companywide with approximately 300 in Springfield, is hopeful about the prospects for Fast Track.
“I think it’s really targeted towards a segment of our employee group, a segment of our population that really needs some help and assistance,” Ausburn said. “We’re excited to see the starting point, but anticipate it’s going to grow significantly over the years.”
Parson said he’s pleased with the feedback he’s received from Missourians about Fast Track and the attention it’s receiving by legislators. However, he stopped short of making any predictions about how soon the bills could come up for a vote in the House and Senate.
“It’s something we can implement in a short period of time,” he said. “If we can get it through the legislative process, we can possibly sign that bill early. … And I think you’re going to see it move very quickly through the legislative process.”
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