Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday June 25th 2019

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Outtakes—Job Training Blocked

By Rick Outzen

GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum last week touted the need to ramp up Florida’s technical and vocational programs.

“We are going to add major investments in jobs and skills training,” said Gillum. “While college worked for me, for my older siblings, it was access to woodwork and shop and mechanical and technical degree programs that allowed them to gain a skill that they could monetize, go to work and get a good job.”

When he toured the Okaloosa STEMM Academy in Valparaiso, DeSantis said he wanted to enhance programs that let students earn industry or technical certifications while in high school so they could have the option of entering the workforce rather than pursuing college degrees.

He told The News Service of Florida, “You then can go and get gainful employment, maybe you do some more training, but you’re not having to go $100,000 into debt, get a degree in zombie studies and then end up in a job you could have had out of high school anyways.”

Both candidates owe some credit for raising the importance of vocational training to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who made the issue a top priority during his gubernatorial primary campaign against DeSantis.

Putnam had pointed out that while Florida’s Bright Futures merit-scholarship program will receive a record $523 million this year, the “Gold Seal” vocational scholarships represent only 1 percent of the students receiving those awards, about 1,000 of the 103,000 Bright Futures scholars this academic year. When the Bright Futures program was launched in 1997, Florida had more than 10,600 Gold Seal scholars.

This summer, it appeared Escambia County was set to lead the charge for more vocational training when Triumph Gulf Coast announced the award of $3 million to the Escambia County School District for training programs in cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, aviation maintenance and, in conjunction with Pensacola State College, programs in IT, middle school summer STEM topics and commercial driver training.

In August, the school district was to receive $1.57 million for facilities, equipment and teachers. The grant was seen as a huge boon to our training the county’s future workforce. However, the funds were never distributed. The grant came with metrics that set firm goals for the number of certificates earned in the various job fields between the beginning of the 2018-19 school year and the end of the 2021-22 school year. If goals weren’t meet, the district would have to pay back a portion of the grant.

Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has refused to sign the agreement, even though other Northwest Florida school districts have had no problem with the “clawback” clause. Let’s hope Thomas changes his mind.

Our children’s futures are at stake.