Key Funding Sources for Educator Registered Apprenticeship Programs

What educator registered apprenticeship leaders should know about funding their programs
Blog Post
A teacher smiles as he passes a piece of paper to a high-school student sitting next to him.
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages
Feb. 14, 2024

Since 2022, when Tennessee launched the first educator registered apprenticeship (ERA) program approved by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), there has been an explosion of interest in this innovative new model of teacher preparation. Thirty states have now launched ERA programs, providing apprentices with a low- or no-cost, paid pathway into education careers. Education leaders and policymakers hope that ERAs can help address teacher shortages and increase the diversity of the teaching profession.

But educator apprenticeships do not come free. Programs have a lot of costs to cover to operate an ERA: tuition for college or graduate coursework, instructional costs, progressively increasing wages, and other miscellaneous expenses like transportation and textbooks.

Figuring out what funding is available to cover these costs is not always easy. The current funding landscape for ERAs can be difficult to unpack, especially for education professionals who have little experience in the world of registered apprenticeships (RA). This post aims to demystify apprenticeship funding and explain the key funding sources ERA practitioners can look towards to support their programs.

What to Know About Registered Apprenticeship Funding

First and foremost, ERA program leaders should understand that registering a teacher apprenticeship with the USDOL or a state apprenticeship agency does not mean that a program gains automatic access to a particular pot of public dollars. Rather, registration helps make programs eligible for public funding opportunities open only to registered apprenticeship programs. In other words, registration can open doors to different funding opportunities (and to technical assistance), but is not itself a guarantee of state or federal dollars. And while ERA programs are often able to tap into a range of public funding opportunities, none of these grants alone will be large enough to sustain a program indefinitely, so most ERAs combine different funding sources to cover costs.

One benefit of the apprenticeship model is the ability to customize, and programs are often adapted to meet the specific needs of employers, learners, and the local community. As a result, ERA programs also have flexibility in how they fund themselves: there is no single funding model for ERAs, nor is there only one “right” way to fund an apprenticeship program. While many ERAs may rely on similar funding streams, programs’ eligibility for public dollars will depend on a number of factors, including state policy, program design, and learner population. Rather than aiming to replicate another program’s funding model, ERA programs should explore what dollars are available to them and use that information to develop a funding strategy that meets the needs of their apprentices, their partners, and their communities.

Federal Funding

Many ERA programs tap into some type of federal funding. Below are some core programs for which ERAs are eligible, but this is not an exhaustive list of opportunities.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act — usually abbreviated WIOA — is the federal legislation governing the workforce development system. Each year, the federal government provides states with WIOA funding according to a formula. States then pass along most of their WIOA dollars to local workforce development boards, who ultimately control how the funds are allocated.

WIOA dollars can fund many different elements of apprenticeship programs, including related instruction and on-the-job training (often referred to as OJT). WIOA funding can also cover supportive services like transportation or childcare — supports that are often critical to ensuring low-income apprentices can participate, and complete, the program. (For a comprehensive breakdown of what RA components WIOA can fund, consult pages 2–3 of this document.)

While WIOA funding can broadly support apprenticeship, it’s important to remember that these dollars can only be spent on program participants who are enrolled in WIOA through their local workforce development board. WIOA stipulates that to enroll, an individual must face at least one barrier to employment. For youth, those barriers may include being in the foster care system, being unhoused, or pregnant and parenting (for full criteria see here). Enrollment criteria for adults are less stringent, but workforce boards prioritize serving individuals who receive public assistance, are low-income, or are basic-skills deficient.

ERA program leaders interested in WIOA funding should contact their local workforce development board to learn more about how their program participants can access WIOA dollars and how they can be aligned with the other funding opportunities.

State Apprenticeship Expansion Formula (SAE) Grants. This five-year grant program from the USDOL provides states with grants to expand registered apprenticeship in priority sectors. SAE funding is broken down into two categories: 1) formula-funded base grants and 2) competitive funding. The formula-funded base grants are generally much smaller in size than the competitive grants and are awarded to more states and territories. In the most recent round of funding, 45 states and territories received base grants, ranging in size from $265,000 (Guam) to $2.2 million (Texas). Seven states received the additional competitive funding. The average grant size for the competitive funding was about $5 million per state.

While these grants were not specifically designated for ERAs, many grantees will use their SAE funding to grow apprenticeship in the education sector. In 2023, 35 of the 45 states and territories receiving formula funds included education as a priority sector, and five of the seven competitive funding awardees — Kansas, Utah, North Dakota, Washington, and New Hampshire — indicated their grants will support expanding K-12 teacher RAs. In fact, North Dakota will spend its entire SAE grant, both the base and competitive funding, on ERA programs that will provide pathways for classroom aides to become licensed teachers. Grant dollars will go towards tuition assistance, OJT, and wages for apprentices.

ERA leaders can reach out to the SAE awardee in their state to learn more about how their state’s grant will be allocated. USDOL will also open up SAE funding applications again in 2024. Interested ERA leaders can view this grant opportunity forecast for more information.

Apprenticeship Building America (ABA) Grant Program. This grant program from USDOL provides funding to “expand, diversify, and strengthen the Registered Apprenticeship system through support for public and private partnerships.” Like the SAE program, ABA funds are not specifically designated for ERAs, but in the first round of funding in 2022, USDOL awarded grants to applicants focused on expanding ERA programs. For example, ABA grantee Dallas College used their funds to launch Texas’s first teacher RA program, while the South Dakota Board of Labor and Regulation, another ABA grantee, partnered with their state department of education to stand up a pilot program for educational support staff to become licensed teachers.

USDOL has announced that applications for a new round of ABA grants will open this year. Many previous ABA awardees were consortia of partners organization planning to use their grants to support RAs in USDOL’s priority industries. It remains to be seen whether the department will specifically identify education as a priority industry this grant cycle, but ERA leaders have reason to be hopeful given the Biden administration’s strong support for ERA development and expansion. ERA leaders interested in this opportunity should consider connecting with potential partners who might be able to support a strong ABA application.

Other federal funding opportunities. The above programs do not encompass all the federal dollars available to support apprenticeship, and ERA leaders should explore additional avenues for accessing federal funding. For example, apprentices in ERAs offering related instruction through a higher education institution may be able to receive federal student aid, like Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, or TEACH grants. For more information on other federal funding opportunities, ERA leaders can consult this USDOL resource.

Some states have also used federal pandemic relief funding to start ERA programs. But these emergency funding streams are now being phased out, so new ERA programs will no longer be able to rely on covid dollars for initial funding.

State Funding

In addition to exploring federal funding avenues, ERA leaders should look into opportunities available in their own state. Many state governments have appropriated state dollars to support registered apprenticeship, and in some cases, have even set aside funds to support ERAs specifically. For example, the Florida Department of Education announced that it would provide $5 million to the state’s Grow Your Own Teacher Registered Apprenticeship Program to cover apprentices’ related instruction costs. Other states provide similar related instruction subsidies, although most are not specific to particular industries.

States also appropriate funding for RA programs across many different sectors or for innovative workforce development models, including apprenticeship. For instance, California’s formula-based funding source, Apprenticeship Innovation Funding (AIF), supports the operating costs of running an apprenticeship program and subsidizes apprentices’ training expenses. Of note for ERA practitioners is AIF’s designation of public education institutions, including K-12 schools and districts, as eligible funding recipients. In Colorado, an $85 million Opportunity Now grant funds “innovative workforce and talent development initiatives.” Apprenticeship programs were among the grantees, and a new program, Teacher Degree Apprenticeship, launched in January 2024 with Opportunity Now funds.

State-funded incentives are also a popular way to support apprenticeship with state dollars. These often come in the form of state tax credits or subsidies for employers, related instruction providers, apprenticeship intermediaries and sponsors, or other entities developing RA programs. (For more information, refer to this Urban Institute report.) ERA program leaders should connect with their local workforce development board as well as state departments of labor, workforce development, and/or education to learn about funding opportunities available in their state.

Related Topics
Initial Preparation Workforce Development & CTE Teachers Apprenticeship