Florida lawmakers have an opportunity this legislative Session to give back to future generations of Floridians, provide support for future teachers and help address the teacher shortage in our state. It’s an opportunity I hope they take advantage of.
I recently learned about bills filed by Sen. Joe Gruters (Senate Bill 1284) and Rep. Kaylee Tuck (House Bill 823) that would expand eligibility for the Florida Postsecondary Student Assistance Grant Program to Floridians who want to earn a college degree, but for personal reasons, can’t attend a traditional four-year, in-person school. This is something that would have helped me tremendously when I was trying to figure out my own life and career path, and it could make a big difference in the lives of countless Floridians.
After I graduated high school, the traditional college track was all I ever knew or considered, even though it didn’t seem like a great fit for me. I started taking classes at my local community college and decided to pursue an education degree to become a teacher. I then applied at one of Florida’s premier state universities and was accepted my junior year.
Unfortunately, taking a full course load and attending an in-person university full time required my parents and I to take out student loans and incur a significant amount of debt. After only one semester, as much as I wanted to become a teacher, I quickly realized that this path was simply unsustainable for me.
I began working at a day care to try to fulfill my passion for working with children, but I was only making minimum wage. It was during this time that my dad learned about a degree program in special education from a unique, online university called Western Governors University (WGU). This program was the answer for me and fit all of my needs. Importantly, it was both affordable and flexible, allowing me to complete competencies quickly, on my schedule. Thanks to that flexibility, and a lot of the credits I had previously earned transferring over, I was able to graduate on time, with the degree of my dreams, but without the heavy financial burden.
As part of the WGU program I was enrolled in, I was completing an internship at a local school, and was offered a permanent position teaching special education students at a Title I school in a rural area outside of Gainesville. This job is everything I could have hoped for and more. It is so rewarding to work with special needs students, to help them learn, and to watch them grow and thrive. And it would not have been possible if I had not had access to an online degree program like WGU that fit my needs.
It is my hope lawmakers will see stories like mine and understand the importance of providing access and opportunities for more Floridians to achieve their dreams and change their lives. Expanding eligibility for the grant program will allow Floridians who want to go back to school and earn a degree, but need a more cost-effective and flexible option to fit their work and family obligations, to do so.
I believe this could encourage more people to pursue their own dream of becoming a teacher. I am asking Florida leaders to please support the next generation of teachers who will help educate our future children and pass SB 1284 and HB 823.
Grace Carpenter is a special-education teacher in the Lake Butler area.