Help is on the way for high school dropouts

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Over the course of their lifetime, a typical high school dropout makes $200,000 less than a high school graduate and $800,000 less than a college graduate. About half of all inmates in the United States are dropouts.

 Compared to the overall population, a dropout’s suicide rate is noticeably higher. Furthermore, they are significantly more likely to need welfare and other types of assistance from the government.  

The Graduation Alternative to Traditional Education, or GATE, program would be established by House Bill 7051, and the state Department of Education would be in charge of its administration. Those who dropped out of high school between the ages of 16 and 21 would be eligible for the program. 

A significant House committee unanimously supported the bill on Wednesday, allowing those who dropped out of high school to receive tuition exemptions so they could attend Florida schools and earn degrees and certificates that would be in demand by employers. 

After all additional federal and state aid has been applied, colleges and career centers would have to waive 100% of registration, tuition, lab and exam fees for students who enroll through the GATE program. 

In order 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.  

Along with creating a GATE scholarship program, the bill would also reimburse career centers and schools that take part in the greater GATE program. In order to improve rural residents’ access to the main program, the legislation would additionally establish a grant program. With the help of these programs, students would be able to obtain a higher education for free, as postsecondary career centers and other institutions in the Florida College System would be required to waive 100% of their tuition and instructional material costs. This would provide a cost-free alternative to earning a diploma or workforce credential. 

Amanda Greene, a student at FAMU from Palm Beach, has friends back home who dropped out of high school. “I feel like this is a great opportunity for people who were not able to complete school under certain circumstances. It gives them hope, they may not have been able to afford school at the time but now they have a chance at finishing their education which I think is so good,” she said. 

For previous students who enroll in a postsecondary career center or in a state institution like Valencia or Seminole, GATE would eliminate registration, tuition, laboratory and exam fees, making it easier to obtain a high school diploma and workforce certification. In exchange, the students have to finish the program in three years and maintain at least passing grades in their curriculum. The initial cost to taxpayers is estimated by legislative experts to be approximately $6.9 million per year. Considering the state’s annual budget of $117 billion, that is a small amount.