Lawmakers have agreed to continue funding the Open Door Grant Program, a piece of House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ workforce package.
The Legislature created the grant program as part of a broader workforce package last year with the intent to create and sustain a demand-driven supply of credentialed workers for high-demand occupations. Career and technical education programs at career centers and schools in the Florida College System may apply for the funds, which can be used to cover tuition, fees, examination, books and materials. Students in eligible programs who don’t receive state or federal financial aid can apply for a grant.
Lawmakers agreed to fund the program at $35 million last year, but the Senate omitted it from its budget proposal. On Wednesday, Senate education budget negotiators matched the House plan on that and other workforce programs.
Last year, lawmakers supplemented the program with $15 million from the federal Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund, part of the CARES Act passed as COVID-19 relief under former President Donald Trump. With the latest spending, Florida would fund the program with state funds.
Starting new programs with one-time federal relief funds became a point of contention last year, as lawmakers debated how to divide the influx of federal dollars.
Within the broader bill that established the Open Door Grant Program was the Reimagining Education and Career Help (REACH) Act.
In order to coordinate the effort, the act established a new REACH Office in the Office of the Governor to streamline all of the access points to education and career help across Florida’s workforce resources in the Department of Economic Opportunity, the Department of Education and CareerSource. CareerSource is the statewide workforce service composed of business and government leaders charged with guiding workforce development in the state.
Workforce spending continues to remain a priority for both Sprowls and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Senate moved closer to the House position on several workforce programs, like $5 million for the Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program. On workforce development, after not including any funding for that item, the Senate exceeded the House’s $10 million suggestion by instead offering $34.6 million.