I was hesitant to respond to this one because I lived this topic for so long. I taught Technology Education/Industrial Arts/Shop for 36 years. In the last part of my career I was the curriculum coordinator for my district; a large suburban PA school system with 13 schools and about 10,000 students.
When I started teaching high school in 1972, we had a huge Industrial Arts (IA) program. At that time the high school housed over 3000 students and had a metal shop, two wood shops, two drafting rooms, two power mechanics (engines) shops, an electric shop and a print shop. As the years went by the student population went down but the enrollment of IA dropped even more. Parents and students were pursuing more academic electives with college in mind.
In the 80's and 90's Industrial Arts made the national transition to Technology Education. Some districts were in the forefront of this and many lagged behind. More technology and computers were injected into the curriculum. Wood and metal was combined into Manufacturing and Construction technology, print shop and drafting was changed to Communication Technology and electronics and power/energy/engines morphed into Power Technology.
Many districts had slight variations on these themes and many just did their own thing. That is the direction things have taken, though, and without the change to technology, I really don't think traditional wood, metal, print and electric shops would have survived, at least not in my area. School boards and administrators tired of traditional 'shop'.
On top of this turmoil, school boards are always looking for ways to cut costs and many board members are not as enlightened as our friend Jim Douglas. In my district there were/are several members who were ruthless about destroying the program. In some surrounding districts they succeeded by crippling the programs down to the point where they would just barely meet state standards.
The 'Why" was simply costs. When a district sets up a standard classroom, it is nowhere nearly as expensive as setting up a 'shop' or what we would currently call a Tech Ed Lab. They dont have to pay for a Powermatic planer, remote power shut-offs all around the room, a dust collection system, an expensive table saw, etc. Nor does the district have to pay for the considerable annual cost of shop supplies.
When I was first put in charge of the program the high school was down to six teachers and five labs - wood, drafting, electronics, graphic arts and power tech. They had just lowered the yearly supply/equipment budget to about $15,000 total and shortly afterward arbitrarily cut that to $13k. To replace broken/worn equipment, buy wood, project parts, software (we had a full CAD lab, graphics lab and other computers) etc., was really tough with that amount of money.
Compounding the problem was that we have a regional vocational school. Some school board members could not be convinced that the Tech Ed program was not being duplicated by the vocational school, no matter how often we would explain the differences in purposes, facilities and curriculum. Basically, the vocational school was for job training and we were building skills for students in general education to give them a chance to learn about processes, tools, etc.
The middle school program was a different story. In PA, a middle school Tech Ed program is mandatory. What the state doesn't spell out is how extensive it should be. At our district, all the kids in grades 6-8 get Tech Ed for every other day for half the year. This is more than the kids get in many districts. From grades 9 and up, Tech Ed is an elective course. That parents want to steer their kids toward academic subjects, whether they are college material or not, really hurt enrollment.
Also, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with it's stress on math and writing/reading skills above all else, has lead schools to cut their focus on other areas, really hurting Tech Ed/ shop classes (along with art, home economics, etc.). Ironically, The Tech Ed classes include a lot of math, critical thinking skills and problem solving - all of which help students with the standardized tests.
I'm going on and on. For those interested, here's a link to the ITEEA's (International Technology and Engineering Educator's Association) program guide: http://www.iteea.org/TAA/PDFs/Execsum.pdf
You can see for yourself the direction 'shop' is heading in. As you can tell by the name of the organization, engineering is being injected into the curriculum. It was until recently known as ITEA (International Technology Education Association) and once was the Industrial Arts Association.
I agree that it is a gross injustice not to give school students an experience using tools and learning to use them safely. Some kids get out of some schools not knowing what a screwdriver is, while having calculus knowledge they may never use.
Oddly, one thing I never heard administrators or school board members complain about was the cost of insurance. I suppose the 'shops' weren't itemized but were part of a blanket district insurance policy. Also, we had a pretty good student safety record.
As advice: Please don't hesitate to let your local school board members know that you support your school's Tech Ed program (or whatever your district might call it - there are variations). They constantly get hammered on cutting taxes and the 'shops' are a tempting target to cut. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.