Vol. 1, Issue 17, September 9, 2003
Florida Law Lets Pupils Forgo High School
Of all the ways attempted to free up space in Florida's crowded classrooms, this one could be a dream come true for high schoolers in a hurry: a diploma without attending school.
Supporters of a law granting a high school diploma to anyone who asks said it will help curb crowding in Florida's schools. Critics fear it will deprive high school graduates of extracurricular activities and valuable classroom skills, such as reading.
The state's top education official is already warning that the new law essentially enabling students to forgo school is not for everyone.
"It was meant for a small group, a band of students, who were not only mature enough but smart enough to obtain a high school diploma based on their life experience," Education Commissioner Jim Horne said. "It's not an attempt under class size pressure to do away with high school. Although, we are offering a $500 cash incentive to any student willing to sign up for the program."
The fast-track graduation law was among several measures passed this spring in the wake of a voter-approved amendment requiring the state to take immediate action to start reducing class sizes and educational spending. Under the option, students can graduate with upon turning eighteen provided that they can demonstrate "life experience" to a panel of examiners in a brief 10-minute oral exam.
"This program could save Florida millions," said Horne. "It's a win-win situation: students are delighted to take home $500 cash, and the state saves thousands in trying to educate them."
No other state has tried a similar program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas started offering scholarships this year to students who stay home their senior year, but only those who complete a gun safety course.
"Kids are having a hard enough time as it is in college," said Okeechobee County School District Assistant Superintendent Lee Dixon. "Do we really want these kids entering college or the workforce with no appreciable skills?"
"They already are," responded Horne. "At least this way we save some money."
Florida state officials declined to comment on speculation that this program is an attempt to wrest the title of most-mocked state from California. Florida held this position for two years following the 2000 presidential election, but was displaced thanks to California's surreal gubernatorial recall.
"I'd think this program would give Florida a pretty good shot at taking the crown back from California," said Dixon. "They may have Gary Coleman on the ballot for the next two months, but we'll have these kids kicking around the state for the rest of their lives."