KDOC reduces funds for BCC programs

Barton Community College is closing its plumbing and carpentry programs at the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility (LCMHF), said vice president of Instruction Elaine Simmons. The welding program continues.

Recent updates in provider contracts with the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) have reduced funding for Barton, Simmons said.

“This change will affect the education and training delivered in the region’s prisons, Ellsworth and Larned,” Simmons said. “Residents of these facilities will continue to receive adult education and limited technical vocational training. In addition, the college will work to expand the academic offerings available in the facilities, while shifting a number of technical vocational training programs to the Barton County campus.”

Simmons discussed some of the plans during the BCC Board of Trustees study session last Tuesday and later provided additional information to the Great Bend Tribune. A long-term partner and contract provider for the KDOC, Barton joined the Kansas Consortium for Correctional Higher Education when it was founded in 2020. Simmons warned at the time that more educational institutions would compete for KDOC contracts.

In 2018, the LCMHF opened a new vocational training facility for industry-recognized programs in carpentry, plumbing and welding through Barton. (Although the prison’s mission has changed from mental health care to vocational rehabilitation, its official name is still LCMHF.)

“It’ll just be welding now,” Simmons said.

“Our local (penal) facilities have not run away from us,” Simmons told the board. “Ellsworth and Larned continue to be good partners of this institution. We should take a Cadillac and make it a buggy for a while and see where the buggy takes us.”

KDOC is looking at a new model for inmate education that will bring in multiple service providers and make services more equitable in prisons, Simmons said.

Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman added: “The format is changing. We do not agree with the change. (However), “discussion is still going on, and that’s a good sign.”

Simmons will remain a member of the consortium board.

Board Chairman Mike Johnson commented on Barton’s role as a leader in prison education over the past two decades.

“I’m concerned,” Johnson said of the latest development. “I understand they want to provide more service statewide, but I think we are the flagship program. We have the premiere training.”

Simmon said the college is still respected in the industry and looking for areas to grow.

“Barton is a recognized leader in correctional education and was given the opportunity to participate in the Second Chance Pell program last year,” Simmons said. “Residents of local facilities have the opportunity to apply for federal funds to support participation in academic and technical vocational education. The college also sponsors a BASICS (Building Academic Skills in Correctional Settings) scholarship program funded by the generosity of area donors.”

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