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November 14, 2017

Hard-Won: Homeschooler Earns Florida Vocational Scholarship

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Tj Schmidt TJ SCHMIDT Contact attorney for Florida

It took several years of work, but a team effort has helped a homeschool student qualify for a state vocational scholarship.

We believe David Sager is the first homeschooler to qualify for the award. His experience will pave the way for other homeschool students to apply for and receive the scholarship.

The effort started when the young man entered high school. His mom, Margaret Sager, began to research the guidelines of the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program to prepare her son to apply for this scholarship.

As the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) puts it: The Bright Futures Program provides “scholarships to reward Florida high school graduates for high academic achievement.”

Its Gold Seal Vocational Scholars (GSV) award pays for “100% of program of study up to 72 credit hours if enrolled in a career education or career certificate program or up to 60 credit hours of an applied technology diploma program.”

A Case of Discrimination

However, when David tried to apply for the GSV award to pursue a certificate in AutoCAD design, he was denied. According to low-level staff at the OSFA, Margaret’s son was not eligible for the Gold Seal Vocational Scholar because he was homeschooled.

Based on her careful research, Margaret knew that homeschool students have been eligible for the Florida Academic Scholars (FAS) and the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) awards for many years. Depending on the post-high school institution and credit type, these awards typically provide 100% of the tuition costs.

All of the Bright Futures Scholarship Program awards are open to homeschool students, according to Florida law. There are qualifying standards.

Like the FAS and FMS awards, the GSV award requires students to achieve a minimum grade-point average and SAT/ACT score. However,  this award allows students to substitute the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT) instead of the SAT/ACT. Additionally, the GSV requires that the student must have at least three credits in a single career and technical education course.

Acknowledging the Law

After Margaret contacted us for help, we reached out to the state financial aid office. They quickly acknowledged that homeschool students are eligible for the GSV award under state law. This was contrary to what our member had been told for weeks. However, officials pointed out that the homeschool student had to demonstrate that, per the award’s general qualifying standards, her son had to have taken three credits in a single career and technical education course.

Again, having done their homework, the Sagers had made sure that their son had completed these credits. We helped the family update David’s transcripts to reflect the appropriate career and technical education course codes. Since Elisha, David’s dad, is a certified machinist, he was able to verify that these courses meet the standards for a career credit.

Armed with all of this information, we provided the young man’s transcripts and documentation to the OSFA.

After several weeks of review, the state office confirmed that the young man was eligible for the GSV award.

The family had this to say about this whole ordeal:

We are so thankful to have (had) the dedicated members of HSLDA working with us through this experience. Without their help, I would not have received the necessary information in order for his application to be approved. Homeschoolers are still fighting for equality in many educational arenas, and HSLDA has been a huge part of that fight. Unfortunately, sometimes it requires legal intervention for the state to follow their own guidelines. Because of this, I always encourage other homeschooling families to join HSLDA, not only for the legal protection, but also for their wealth of knowledge and support in many different facets of homeschooling. We have been incredibly blessed by Tj Schmidt and his staff, who diligently serve the homeschool families of Florida.