Suwannee Valley Times is distributed into the following cities and towns: Lake City, Live Oak, Madison, Branford, Dowling Park, Falmouth, Lee, Wellborn, Jasper, White Springs, Fort White, High Springs and Alachua

Legislation on Governor’s desk –

Free career education for those who gave up on high school

By Tami Stevenson

If anyone is age 16 - 21 years old, has dropped out of high school and not received a diploma or a high school equivalent certificate, they will be able to apply for free schooling to earn a career from technical colleges and career centers free of charge, if the new legislation becomes law.

     Called the Education bill, CS/SB 7032 creates the Graduation Alternative to Traditional Education (GATE) Program, GATE Scholarship Program, GATE Startup Grant Program, and GATE Program Performance Fund. All four programs are aimed at re-engaging students who have withdrawn from high school by providing opportunities to earn career education credentials while also completing a standard high school diploma or equivalent credential.

     The bill, sponsored by Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, received a unanimous vote by both the Senate and House. It landed on Governor DeSantis’ desk along with 27 other bills, on April 25.

     The Governor has until May 10 to sign it. If approved, CS/SB 7032 will take effect July 1, 2024.

     Upon approval, schools must make the grant application available to potential applicants no later than August 15, 2024.

Eligibility requirements:

•Not have earned a standard high school diploma or a high school equivalency diploma.

•Have been withdrawn from high school. If age 16 or 17, have withdrawn according to requirements specified in law.

•Be a resident of this state for tuition purposes.

•Be 16 to 21 years of age at the time of initial enrollment.

•Select an adult secondary education program and career education program at the time of admission to the GATE Program, provided that the career education program is included on the Master Credentials List. The student must remain in the pathway after enrollment, except that the student may enroll in an adult basic education program prior to enrolling in the adult secondary education program.

•Maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) for career and technical education coursework.

•Complete the adult secondary education program and the career education program within three years unless the institution determines that an extension is warranted due to extenuating circumstances.

     According to the the bill text, institutions will provide free instructional materials and, “…shall waive 100 percent of the registration, tuition, laboratory, and examination fees for a student participating in the GATE Program.”