Five technical high school programs that prepare students to become licensed practical nurses have stopped taking applications for new students as state officials are debating their future.
While no decision has been made to close the programs, Ed Leavy, president of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers, said administrators have been told to stop accepting new students who would have started class in January.
“I am obviously concerned about the future of these programs,” he said. “We think these programs are too important to eliminate.”
Leavy said his union will lobby legislators to save the programs, if need be, because they are affordable programs that set people on a solid career path. The union represents about 25 LPN teachers and department heads.
“Many of these students have been underemployed, and the LPN programs prepare them for good-paying jobs,” he said.
The 155 students currently enrolled in the programs will return to class this fall and be able to graduate, said Abbe Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Technical High School System, who stressed that no decision has been made to close the programs.
The programs are at Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury, Norwich Technical High School, A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford and Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport. A fifth program operated by Eli Whitney Technical High School in Hamden is temporarily located at Platt Technical High School in Milford while renovations are being done at Whitney, Smith said.
Nivea L. Torres, the superintendent of the technical school system, and her board “are reviewing all programs to make sure they align with the technical high school system’s core mission,’’ Smith said. “They are also exploring options – including potential partnerships with colleges and universities – to make our adult education programs stronger and more financially sustainable.”
Maribel La Luz, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, said there has been some discussion about the community colleges taking over the high school LPN programs, but no decisions have been made.
Torres’ review comes as the technical high schools are dealing with a significant budget cut of $7.8 million this fiscal year, according to the state Office of Fiscal Analysis.
A change in federal financial aid policy also means that adult students in secondary schools will no longer be able to receive grants to fund their education, the state Office of Policy and Management announced May 25. For that reason, a medical assistant program at Platt, dental assistant programs at Prince and Windham Technical High School, a certified nursing assistant program at Whitney and surgical technology programs at Prince and Whitney were terminated June 13, OPM said.
Patricia Bouffard, the chairwoman of the state Board of Examiners for Nursing, said federal officials have been decreasing their support for the use of Pell grants for programs such as the high school LPN programs that are based on “clock hours” versus those at colleges based on credits.
Any nursing programs that want to close must submit a closing plan to the state nursing board, which must then approve it to be sure students are taken care of, Bouffard said. She said the board has not received any closing plans.
The high school LPN programs have faced turmoil in recent years. In 2010, 10 of them were suspended when then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell cut funding. An infusion of $1.2 million and an increase in tuition saved six of the programs. Classes resumed in 2011.
Students pay $11,550 in tuition and take 18 months to complete the programs.
In June, the LPN program at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown closed because its students had a low passing rate on the national LPN licensing exam. The 20 students in the program scattered to finish their programs at one of the other tech schools.
Hillary Thompkins, 53, of Middletown, is a displaced Vinal student who plans to finish the program in Norwich in January.
If the other programs do close, it will be troubling for young people and for older students alike, Thompkins said.
“They’re just really making it hard for people to get ahead,’’ she said, adding “I think this would be a loss for these communities.”