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Companion Bills Aim To Give High School Students Alternative Path To Graduation

A group of lawmakers wearing suits stand behind Senator Hutson who is speaking at at a lecturn.
Ryan Dailey

Florida lawmakers want to give high school students another pathway to graduation. Two new bills are part of a larger push for expanded vocational education in the state.

The companion bills aim to present an alternative pathway to the traditional four-year high school diploma. The goal is to have students graduate with industry certification by focusing on career education.  The measures were filed by Republican Representatives Wyman Duggan and Tyler Sirois, along with state Senator Travis Hutson.

“Emphasizing on vocational education for students whose career ambitions may not include a college degree,” Hutson said Tuesday, describing the proposed curriculum. “Instead of a traditional 24 credits needed to graduate – we are proposing an 18-credit graduation track that encourages students to pursue more technical, career-focused education.”

Duggan says the curriculum is ready, and it doesn’t compromise required coursework.

“We are not diluting the academic requirements, if you look through the bill. There are still rigorous academic requirements the students will have to meet. But they will now have an alternative option, out of existing curriculum,” Duggan said.

The vocational track would have potential for students to graduate in three years provided they maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average, according to Hutson.

“The 18-credit career track, what it does – you’re still going to take your English and your history classes. You’ll be able to substitute a couple math and science classes for industry certification,” Hutson said. “And then the other six credits are workforce-ready or industry certification as well. You could be done as a junior if you want to, and go on to apprenticeship programs.”

Students would also have the option to return to the traditional university track if desired. Various industry professionals joined the Republican legislators in introducing their bills as a show of support.

David Hart, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president of government relations, was at the Capitol Tuesday to back the bills.

“There are 273,700 job openings in our state. You can find that updated regularly on the Florida Chamber Foundation’s scorecard,” Hart said. “But there are also 335,000 individuals looking for a job. And we call that the ‘talent gap.’”

Carol Bowen, chief lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, says educating those getting ready to enter the workforce on the possibilities within her industry is crucial.

“Fifty percent of our workforce is 50 years old, or older,” Bowen said. “That means virtually half of our available skilled workers are ready to retire.”

In January, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order aimed at boosting career training in the state.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.