As demand for skilled workers grows, Virginia is planning to develop new career and technical education standards to make it easier for schools to offer programs that pivot from the traditional path of college preparation. 

On Wednesday, the Virginia Board of Education voted unanimously to support the creation of state CTE standards that will allow school divisions to opt out of a prior requirement that programs meet national accreditation standards. The Virginia Department of Education has said the shift could potentially save districts money and open up options for new programs.

This story was reported and written by our media partner The Virginia Mercury

The Board heard clearly that a mandate of national accreditation standards creates burdens to continuing a number of career programs and was likely to cost students opportunities to participate in career and technical education,” said VDOE Assistant Superintendent Todd Reid. “This move helps ensure more career training options should remain available for Virginia’s students seeking certification for their post-graduation work.”

State code requires CTE courses to be “aligned with state or national program certification and accreditation standards, if such standards exist.” However, because the state has not previously crafted its own CTE standards — which can include rules for planning and monitoring courses, evaluating student outcomes and ensuring equipment and activities comply with health and safety regulations — Virginia schools have historically deferred to national ones. 

National standards, however, can be costly for divisions to meet, both because of the requirements they impose on divisions and the fees they extract from schools. Virginia CTE programs that currently rely on national accreditation include culinary arts, pharmacy technician, graphic imaging technology, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and refrigeration.

“With our state accreditation standards, this will provide relief and flexibility,” said Anthony Williams, director of VDOE’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education.

Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association, which represents schools that offer culinary arts training, said Wednesday that about half of the schools may have to  drop their culinary arts programs because of the cost associated with accreditation through the American Culinary Federation. Among that organization’s guidelines for accreditation is a requirement that schools have a full culinary kitchen, which can cost millions, Terry said. That applies whether a division is small — as in Halifax — or large — as in Fairfax.

“We are not opposed to accreditation in general,” Terry said. “We just think that this particular one is particularly egregious to our schools being able to qualify for it.”

The Virginia Department of Education has said that state standards could relieve divisions of some of those costs while still ensuring that students receive high-quality training.

“State programmatic accreditation standards will allow school divisions the opportunity to weigh the costs associated with national accreditation alignment with the relative benefit to the program and/or student,” a VDOE report states.


The push to develop state CTE standards is in line with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s emphasis on strengthening Virginia’s workforce and expanding career and technical education in public schools. Most notably, the governor has said he believes every Virginia student should graduate high school with a credential or associate’s degree.  

While that idea has not been realized, state lawmakers have backed some efforts to beef up Virginia students’ career readiness. The latest budget gave Virginia colleges and universities an additional $75 million to “refine or create programs that meet current and future workforce needs.” Youngkin has especially encouraged the expansion of dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college-level courses or classes that count toward industry credentials. 

However, a range of proposals aimed at strengthening career and technical education failed during the last General Assembly session, including bills to expand the state’s tuition assistance program for community college students interested in high-demand industries. And federal legislation to expand 529 savings plans to cover training for high-demand middle-skilled positions — jobs that require more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year degree — have stalled. 

Meanwhile, employers are clamoring for more skilled tradespeople. According to the Construction Labor Market Analyzer, a tool developed by industry group Build Your Future, 280,076 craft professionals are needed in Virginia.

Courney Baker, director of workforce and training with the Associated General Contractors of Virginia, said most employers in Virginia look to career-building programs to acquire workers. A survey conducted by the group found 79% of Virginia firms with open jobs are having a hard time filling some or all positions, and 92% have increased pay rates in the past year.