MANATEE -- While the Manatee County school district struggles to reorganize its finances, new state legislation could cost the district as much as $500,000 to keep its popular dual enrollment program afloat.
The Legislature approved a measure requiring public schools to pay the costs for high school students who take college classes. Previously, colleges covered most costs.
The change could cost school districts across the state as much as $60 million.
School district officials from Manatee and Sarasota counties say they hope to work out a deal with the State College of Florida to defray district costs. District officials have also said they will push high school students toward more advanced placement classes to earn college credits and toward International Baccalaureate programs.
Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction, said she is working with Superintendent Rick Mills to maintain dual enrollment in Manatee County.
"We are not going to hold back students who want to earn college credits in high schools," Greene said.
Greene said about 280 Manatee County high school students earning a combined total of 4,110 credit hours last year, mainly at the State College of Florida. Greene said the same num
ber of dual-enrollment students this year would cost the district $480,220.
"This is devastating for our budget, since this was just shared with school districts," Greene said.
Calls to State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld were not returned.
Greene said the district will continue to provide dual enrollment as an option for students, but it will encourage alternative programs where students can earn college credit at a lower cost. Students will also be encouraged to take the college-level examination program for eligible classes before considering dual enrollment. The college-level examination program allows students to earn up to 30 college credit hours.
Matthew Bouck, director of the office of articulation at the Florida Department of Education, said dual enrollment funds are being requested from the school district level because colleges do not receive tuition from the program.
"This has become more of a problem as dual enrollment became a more widespread and successful program in Florida," Bouck said.
The school district reports the number of students who are dual enrolled to the state as part of its regular enrollment and the district receives funding from the state for those students.
"The colleges got some funding, but the level of funding they would receive would not come close to tuition," Bouck said. "They can't say they didn't receive money, but for the most part, they didn't."
Bouck said he does not think the dual enrollment programs will be threatened but districts must find ways to sustain it.
"Dual enrollment is just one of a number of acceleration programs," Bouck said.
Bill Jones, principal of Manatee School for the Arts, said he is worried about the future of the program.
"It is a big chunk out of the budget," Jones said. "It ultimately will reduce the opportunity for students."
Jones said dual enrollment will cost Manatee School for the Arts about $35,000. The district may have to become more rigid on its requirements for dual enrollment students, especially when it involves a charter school.
"Before it was fairly fast and loose because it wasn't really costing anyone anything. Now they could review and be more judicious," Jones said.
To dual enroll, students meet with guidance counselors for one-on-one planning. Greene said placement in dual enrollment is determined by academic standing and student capability to meet college graduation requirements.
Previously, there has not been a cap on how many students per high school could sign up for dual enrollment. This school year, Greene said schools will register students who need to meet graduation requirements first, then register those who have satisfied their high school credits early and are looking to go beyond.
The State College of Florida spokesperson Kathy Walker said dual enrollment benefits students and the college. It provides college credits to high-achieving students and showcases the college to potential students.
According to Bouck, dual enrollment changes have been talked about for the past few years as the program became more popular among high school students. Bouck said college presidents brought the idea for changes to the Legislature.
"Everyone is going through shortfalls, including colleges that see dual enrollment as a cost," Greene said.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.