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Florida plan could give dropouts college aid



Tallahassee, Florida – A significant House committee unanimously supported a plan on Wednesday that would eliminate tuition for individuals who have dropped out of high school and allow them to enroll in Florida universities to seek degrees and workforce qualifications.

However, a few House Education & Employment Committee members expressed reservations and questioned whether the bill would provide high school dropouts with a “better deal” than graduates, as one Republican put it.

The state Department of Education would oversee the Graduation Alternative to Traditional Education, or GATE, program, which would be established by the measure. Those who dropped out of high school between the ages of 16 and 21 would be eligible for the program.

After other federal and state aid is applied, colleges and career centers would have to forgo all registration, tuition, lab, and exam fees for students who enroll through the GATE program.
To be eligible for the GATE program, students must finish their education programs in three years and maintain a grade-point average in vocational and technical education courses of at least 2.0.

“Why are students leaving high school without their diploma or GED? How does Florida re-engage and serve this population so that they may gain the education and training they need to support themselves and their families?” bill sponsor Lauren Melo, R-Naples, said.

On Wednesday, Republican and Democratic lawmakers questioned Melo, the chairwoman of the House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee, regarding the bill.

“If I understand it right, if you drop out of school, you can then go to a Florida college system, one of our what we used to call community colleges, for free,” Republican Rep. Randy Fine. “Am I reading that right, or am I missing something?”

“If they do quit school, it works out to a few thousand dollars bottom line. But yes, we would pay for them to get their alternative high school diploma and certifications,” Melo replied, in part.

“But if I don’t drop out of high school and then I want to go to a Florida college system institution, I have to pay to go,” Fine said. “This bill doesn’t change that?”

Melo claimed that Florida offered the “lowest in-state tuition rate” and that the new GATE program would not give students access to the entire array of college options available to other students.

“All this provides is a high school diploma and it provides certifications. This does not provide a four-year degree,” Melo said.

Rep. Patricia Williams, a Democrat from Palm Beach, carried on the exchange of questions.

“If I drop out of high school, I can attend this program free of charge. If I come with a high-school diploma in hand, I have to pay for my secondary education,” Williams said. “Yes or no?”

“I don’t think it’s a yes or no answer. Yes, you are correct, but we also have many programs that pay for students’ tuition,” Melo replied.

Melo cited the state’s Open Door Grant program as one illustration, which can pay for workforce education programs at colleges and career centers for recent high school graduates in full.
Along with creating a GATE scholarship program, the bill would also reimburse career centers and schools that take part in the greater GATE program. To improve rural residents’ access to the main program, the legislation would additionally establish a grant program.
Fine stated that even though he supported the legislation, he was nevertheless worried about it.

“I believe that if someone drops out of high school, sure we should help them, but we shouldn’t give them a better deal than the person who doesn’t,” Fine said.

The bill is prepared for consideration by the entire House after receiving clearance from the Education & Employment Committee.

Before the Senate as a whole to consider a similar Senate bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee must provide its approval.

President of the Republican Senate Kathleen Passidomo supported the plan last month. “Everyone who wants to work hard has the opportunity to prosper in the free state of Florida. It is important that we have resources in place to help young people, who have decided to leave a traditional high school, re-engage in work and educational opportunities, and build careers that are needed in our growing communities,” Passidomo said in a prepared statement.


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