Over the next week, thousands of young adults will walk across a stage to receive their high school diplomas. Many of them will take that special certificate knowing what the next step in life will be, others will still be trying to figure out the next chapter.

When it comes to seniors in Arizona, many of the ones who have an answer on the direction they want to take next is in large part because of the opportunities they were afforded through a program known as the Joint Technological Education District (JTED).

JTED allows students to start as early as their freshmen year to test interests in specific career fields. Some find it’s not the career they want after all, others are able to keep going, gaining valuable knowledge, experience and, in some cases, college credits.

JTED is tuition free, is onsite at participating high schools and has had a strong success rate since it was approved by voters in 2007.

When our teenage daughter, Tracy, came to live with us when she was 15, she said she wanted to be a teacher. JTED has allowed her to get an up-close look at the industry, and since her sophomore year, she’s taken class after class that not only improved her confidence, but also has made her more driven.

Tracy has evolved her original goal of being a teacher, to wanting to become a special education teacher. Through JTED’s education professions program she has shadowed inside classrooms, written and carried out lesson plans.

We adopted Tracy three years ago. She came from a tough background, with a father that was out of the picture, and a mom who had just died of a severe stomach cancer. When she first moved in, she was withdrawn, diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder and struggling to find an identity.

While Tracy’s story is different from so many others, I can say JTED was one key ingredient to turning around this teenager. Support from her teachers and love at home was also important, but her drive to become a teacher and a program to help her get started was a big part.

Tracy is just one example of so many success stories that are out there because JTED has offered a resource. Look at Marana High School’s automotive team, the sports medicine programs that are popular at almost every high school, and the cosmetology programs that allow an early start for a career that requires thousands of hours of learning.

JTED is a special program that should never lose funding. If anything, this successful program should be the one increased year after year.

However, here we are. Another Arizona budget coming down the pipeline and more planned cuts to a program that actually encourages students to do better, gives them a sense of purpose and helps test scores and grades increase.

So many of our lawmakers here in Arizona use education as a talking point. They say the K-12 system is broken, that vouchers and other programs would be more effective.

What they aren’t acknowledging or recognizing is a program that motivates students and encourages learning.  Instead, it’s a line item on a budget that is systematically decreased because of the so-called “necessary” cuts to education.

If lawmakers were smart they would make JTED a priority and use it as a talking point for what does work in the Arizona education system.

Look at Daniel Hernandez, he was able to save Gabrielle Giffords’ life through skills he learned in JTED.

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