This story originally appeared on WITF.
The state budget for 2022-2023 that was enacted in July included $5 million for bilingual trade schools in Lancaster, York, Lebanon and Reading.
For a long time, the Spanish-American Civic Association (SACA) in Lancaster was trying to get the state to invest more in workforce development resources in these areas. Tec Centro — SACA’s trade school and workforce development division — decided to expand and collaborate with other workforce development centers in the region. Their needs were growing.
Jose Lopez and Carlos Graupera, who were the driving force behind the push to secure state funding for Tec Centro, said it was a bipartisan effort. They convened state legislators across party lines to garner support for bilingual trade schools and job placement services.
Initially, the ask was $15 million. Lopez is hoping the allocation will be part of the budget for years to come, and will grow as Tec Centro demonstrates there is additional need.
“We’re really providing an opportunity for families that live in these neighborhoods to get into a career path entry point, that can allow them to have sustainable living wages, so that they get out of the cycle of poverty,” Lopez said. “Most of the folks that we serve, about 70% of them here in our two facilities in Lancaster, are classified as being underemployed.”
Each center that belongs to the Tec Centro network must submit a proposal of how they intend to use the funds, and SACA will decide how much to allocate to each one.
The funds will mostly go toward direct services and helping centers launch their programs. The WEPA Empowerment Center in Lebanon will get $600,000 for startup and administrative costs. The York Resource Center will get about the same amount for renovations. The Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation in Reading will use its share of the funds for building renovation projects.
According to a 2022 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate among Hispanic workers in Pennsylvania is 8.6% — which is the highest in the country.
Marlyn Barbosa, program director at Tec Centro, keeps track of the impact the center’s programs are having in the community. She says this data will ensure the network will continue to get more state funding in the future.
“Between 80 and 85% of our students increase over 40% or more of their family income after receiving a training program at Tec Centro, so we’re able to track that information, that’s part of how we can tell the story,” Barbosa said.