TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to a key portion of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education agenda, which seeks to boost the state’s workforce by helping students pursue vocational and technical training in high school.
The legislation, which passed unanimously in the House and the Senate, would create a new pathway to high school graduation focused on technical and vocational training and would inject more money into apprenticeship programs in public schools as well as state colleges and universities.
“This is the most transformational thing we have done in education since Gov. Jeb Bush presided over us, and I mean that not to disrespect anyone else, but because we are doing a lot in this bill,” said Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
The bill (HB 7071) now heads to DeSantis, who’s expected to sign it.
Under the legislation, all school districts would be required to give students the option to partially fulfill high-school diploma requirements by completing two credits in work-based learning programs and two credits in career and technical education.
Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, students would be able to graduate using that option with a 2.0 grade point average.
The bill would help remove the “stigma” of pursuing a vocational path rather than going to college, said Rep. Amber Mariano, a Hudson Republican who sponsored the measure in the House. Many Democrats agreed, saying the bill would offer options to students not heading to college.
Lawmakers also voted to create a grant program at the Florida Department of Education that would inject money into adding new apprenticeship programs and expanding existing programs. The department would prioritize programs that demonstrate “regional demand,” which DeSantis has asked legislators to do.
“I think looking at the (economic) needs of the state and then crafting our education opportunities to reflect that and to fulfill that makes sense,” DeSantis said in January when he made the push for more targeted apprenticeship programs.
Other bill provisions would allow students to substitute a computer-science credit for a math or science credit and take steps to help people who have left school but are within 12 credit hours of completing an associate degree or bachelor’s degree.
Lawmakers also agreed to include in the bill a long-discussed proposal that would require school districts to offer financial-literacy courses as electives. The proposal was added to the bill in honor of the late Sen. Dorothy Hukill, who died last year of cancer and championed the financial-literacy issue for years.
“After six years, the House has agreed to take up financial literacy. This is so important to me because of my good friend Sen. Hukill,” a teary-eyed Hutson said. “She fought so hard for this piece of legislation, and I am glad we can do it for her.”
The House held a moment of silence in honor of Hukill before final passage of the bill.
“I am absolutely confident that Sen. Hukill is looking down smiling and she loves that 40-0,” Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said after the Senate’s unanimous vote.