No FAFSA, no diploma if bill passes

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Florida Senator Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, has introduced Senate Bill 826, which would add an additional requirement for high school students to get their diplomas. If passed, all high school students starting with the 2024–2025 incoming freshman class, would have to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in order to get their diploma.

Students and their parents who don’t want to submit a FAFSA have the option to opt out of the requirement by signing a form.

Serena Roberts, director of the Center for Academic Success at Florida A&M University, said she’s puzzled by the motive

“I guess I don’t really understand the intent of the bill. If it is because the FAFSA is seen as an obstacle to continuing one’s education and you just make the family do it so the student can graduate from high school, then it may open the door for more people continuing their educations,” Roberts said.

“But I can see some families not wanting to do it because they don’t see the point or don’t want to share their financial information, especially if their students don’t plan on continuing school.”

She said it would be a shame if the parents didn’t sign the form to opt out and wonders what schools would do when the situation occurs.

Along with Roberts, Shanell Williams, a West Palm Beach resident with an eighth-grader who’d possibly be affected, explained her take on the bill.

“I want to know the research that shows that this is beneficial and actually accomplishes the goals they’re trying to accomplish,” Williams said.

She also wanted to know how they’d verify that the FAFSA is filled out and if her financial information would be shared with the Florida public school system.

Despite the details, Yennifer Castillo, a middle school teacher at FAMU Developmental Research School, thinks the bill is beneficial, especially for first-generation college students.

“I’m not against it because college isn’t something that they talk about at the end of eighth grade or the beginning of ninth grade … I didn’t have conversations until my 10th-grade year. But if I started conversations earlier, then I would’ve had better grades and been more prepared,” she said.

Though she thinks the bill may be useful, Castillo also explained how parents may be skeptical about the new addition of diploma requirements and how it isn’t necessarily something parents want, so there may be some pushback.

Differing in opinion, Roger Walker, the high school administrator for discipline and activities at FAMU DRS, said he supports the bill.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea that you would start at the high school level and help students being college prepared and ready,” he said.

Walker also thinks that if students can’t get the signatures to opt-out, they should be treated with “support and leniency because every student’s situation is different.”

Though Stewart hasn’t touched on the specific details of the bill, in a press release, she shared how the goal of the bill is to “help students by increasing their awareness of what opportunities are available after high school, and what financial options exist to make postsecondary education attainable.”

The bill coincides with the state’s goal of 60% of Floridians having postsecondary education by 2030. The bill has been referred to three different committees, and similar legislation has been passed in the states of Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana.