High school students could get free tuition for college

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Under a bill proposed by House Republicans — and co-sponsored by Rep. Alan Baker of Brewton — a new Alabama Future Workforce Initiative would create a $10 million scholarship fund for dual enrollment programs in state high schools.

“It’s no secret that Alabama is on its way to being the most business friendly state in the nation. Our hard work over the past three years has yielded tremendous results when it comes to recruiting new industries and helping existing industries to expand,” said Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. “If our job creation success is going to continue, we must ensure that our students graduate with the skills to fill the high-paying, 21st century jobs that we are working to recruit.”

Baker said the bill would be a “win-win” for students and for workforce development.

“I’m excited for the opportunity for education and for businesses,” he said, noting that if students are introduced to technical skills in high school, they are less likely to drop out of school.

Up to 80 percent of any contribution can be directed by a donor to a specific career-technical dual enrollment program or course at any 2-year institution, which Baker said would give businesses a chance to meet their workforce training needs.

In Covington County, LBW Community College president Dr. Herb Riedel said that the college must apply for grant funding every year for career-technical dual enrollment through the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development.

“We have received these grants regularly, but the amount varies and has not been sufficient to fund every eligible student,” he said. “In the current academic year, LBW has 85 local high school students taking career-technical dual enrollment classes.  This number would have been higher, if we had not exhausted the available funding in the fall.”

Outside of dual enrollment classes, local high school students interested in career tech options are limited to agri-science program, business tech, and family and consumer science programs.

“If this passes, it would provide an ongoing source of funding for career-technical dual enrollment scholarships,” Riedel said. “These are essential for providing this type of training for our high school students, because many of them are not able to afford college tuition, fees, and books out of pocket and they do not qualify for federal student aid such as Pell grants.  Career-technical dual enrollment gives students the opportunity to acquire skills that they can use immediately for high wage employment in high demand occupations.

Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, the bill’s sponsor, highlighted the demand for a highly skilled workforce and the impact that career-technical dual enrollment can have on a student’s education.

“It is a fact that there are high-paying, highly skilled jobs available in our state that businesses are unable to find qualified workers to fill,” said Buttram. “The Alabama Future Workforce Initiative is an investment in our workforce, an investment in our economic development efforts, and an investment in the young men and women of today who will comprise our future workforce of tomorrow.”

The Alabama Future Workforce Initiative would create a $10 million scholarship program for high school students to participate in career-technical dual enrollment programs. The individuals and businesses that donate to the scholarship program would receive a state income tax credit of up to 50 percent of their total contribution, the bill’s sponsors said. The tax credit cannot exceed 50 percent of the contributor’s total Alabama income tax liability and cannot be more than $500,000 per tax year.

House Republicans said in a news conference Tuesday that the career-tech dual enrollment program is the “perfect tool” to train a 21st century workforce.

In 2013, 2,100 students participated in Alabama’s career-tech dual enrollment scholarship program – only 6.7 percent of the 31,500 students eligible to participate. Republicans said that with an additional $10 million in scholarship funds, 9,542 new students could participate in the program.

Debate is set to begin on the bill at 9 a.m. today in the House Ways and Means Education committee.