(TNS) — Kansas school districts this year will get less than half the monetary incentive they expected from the state as part of a 2012 initiative to enhance career and technical education.

A memo sent to school districts from the Kansas State Department of Education last week says the per-pupil payment for students who obtained certificates in certain high-demand fields will be “approximately $450” for the just-completed school year. That’s down from a $1,000 per-student incentive promised in the initial legislation.

“It’s been a great program. It’s been highly successful,” said Dale Dennis, deputy education commissioner. “But the appropriation was just reduced due to the state’s fiscal condition.”

Senate Bill 155, approved unanimously by the Kansas Legislature in 2012, called for the state to help pay tuition for high school students enrolled in career and technical education at a community or technical college. It also helped provide those students with transportation to take those classes.

The bill also pledged to provide school districts with a $1,000 incentive for each high school student who graduated with an industry-recognized credential in high-need occupations, such as welders, nursing assistants, carpenters, electricians, sheet metal workers and computer support specialists.

Districts have used the incentives to pay sitting fees for the credential exams, as well as to develop new course offerings, promote career and tech-ed programs and help fund student travel to national competitions.

In the Wichita school district last year, 47 students earned certificates. The district expected to receive $47,000 from the state but likely will get only about $20,000. In Goddard, where 41 students earned certificates last year, officials are estimating they will receive $18,450 instead of $41,000.

Dennis said the incentives were cut because “the money wasn’t there” in the final appropriations bill lawmakers approved earlier this month. The appropriation for CTE incentives to districts was cut from $1.5 million to $750,000, he said.

Overall this year, the state will spend $24.85 million on the career and technical education initiative; the amount is expected to stay the same the next fiscal year. Most of that – about $20 million – goes to pay tuition for high school students taking tech-ed classes at community or technical colleges.

Local school district officials said they’re disappointed the incentives were slashed but aren’t yet sure how the reduction will play out.

“This was a program – a good program – started by the state with a vision and a promise,” said Gail Jamison, president of the Goddard school board.

“It is effective, and we are making strides. But you don’t start a program and then get three or four years into it and then drop your support.”

Senate Bill 155 was one of Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature education initiatives. After it was passed in 2012, Brownback held a ceremonial bill signing at the National Center for Aviation Training in Wichita. Over the past two years, he has visited several school districts to present checks for the incentive portion of the bill.

State law now requires districts to pay at least half the cost of certificate test fees, though many pay the whole amount.

Rita Johnson, senior director for workforce development for the Kansas Board of Regents, said the reduced incentives still should be more than enough to pay those test fees, most of which cost less than $100 each. A few tests, such as those for computer-related industries, can cost up to $300, she said.

When the Regents realized the state faced a budget shortfall this year, Johnson’s staff determined the actual cost of the CTE assessments and adjusted the proposed amount, she said.

“None of them were anywhere near $1,000,” she said.

State education officials have encouraged districts to use the remainder of their incentive money – $1,000 per student for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years – to develop and promote CTE programs, but there was no requirement to do so.

Educators say the initiative seems to be working, and it is boosting the number of high school students taking technical education courses and those earning industry credentials.

In 2012, only 3,870 high school students in Kansas were enrolled in at least one career or technical education class for college credit; this year, 10,390 students took at least one such course. The number of students graduating with an industry-approved certificate grew from 711 in 2013 to 1,682 this year, Johnson said.

“We’re excited that there has been such a tremendous response to this initiative,” she said. “We’re very encouraged, and we all want do anything and everything we can to keep the momentum going.”

Several local K-12 officials, though, say the reduced incentive to school districts looks like the state has reneged on its promise to invest in career and technical education.

“We use these dollars to purchase supplies and equipment used by students in CTE classrooms,” said Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for the Wichita district. “Fewer dollars means we will be able to do less of those things.”

Jamison, the Goddard school board president, pointed to several new Career Pathways programs as evidence that students and families are starting to discover the value of technical education. She’s not sure whether or how the district will make up the difference between what it expected from the state and what it will receive this year.

“We’re starting at an earlier age to promote the opportunities of the career and technical education pathways, and for us to grow the program but not have additional resources to support it is a huge conflict,” she said.

“Anytime we have a budget shortfall, we have to look at increasing fees … taxes, user fees, higher classroom sizes, doing more with less,” Jamison said. “Cutting opportunities for students is one of the last things we want to have to do, but it’s a reality as the dollars shrink, you have to figure out what to do.”

©2015 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.