Filling out the FAFSA could be required for graduation in Alabama

FAFSA could be a graduation requirement

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The Alabama State Board of Education is set to vote on a proposal to make filling out the Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, a requirement to graduate for Alabama high school seniors.

In the February Board meeting, members voted on a draft of the proposal. The draft passed 6 to 3, with support from Gov. Kay Ivey. Right now, the board is in a 45 day waiting period until they can officially vote on the proposal.

During the board meeting, supporters said requiring the FAFSA is a way to insure every student knows there is federal money out there to help pay for higher education.

Belinda McRae represents District 7 for the SBOE, she voted in support of the requirement in the meeting. She said she hopes seeing money available could inspire students to go to college or trade school.

“I think if a student could just see, ’Wow, I’ve got $6,500 here that the government, possibly, if they meet the requirements, that I could spend on going to college,” said Belinda McRae, District 7 representative on SBOE.

Wayne Reynolds, the District 8 representative, was on the other side. He said a requirement isn’t necessary because counselors already let students know about the FAFSA.

“I believe we have other mechanisms to include it in our counseling and instructional program and through media, other than making it a requirement to graduate,” he said. “Which is pretty extreme.”

For students who complete the FAFSA, most will qualify for a Pell Grant, according to the Alabama College Attainment Network. For the 2021-2022 school years Pell Grants could be up to $6,395. These can be used for academic and technical education at two- and four-year colleges and universities. Last year, Alabama families left about $60 million in Pell Grant funds on the table by not completing the FAFSA.

There is a way to get out of the FAFSA requirement, though. For students and parents who don’t want to fill out the FAFSA, they can get the requirement waived by signing a form and then getting approval from a chain of people leading up to their school superintendent.

FAFSA could become a graduation requirement in Alabama

Wayne Reynolds said this waiver process will just be another unfunded burden on faculty, especially when counselors are already working hard to get the word on FAFSA out.

”I’m very cautious, I’m a former school superintendent myself, of adding anymore mandates that persons who are trying to deal with students have to deal with instead of just instructing students,” Reynolds said.

McRae said people she’s talked to say the extra work will be worth it.

“I talk to my local superintendent and she said I’m willing to work harder if it helps the students,” McRae said.

But, she said other school faculty she’s talked to have acknowledge this would be yet another task students need to get done before graduation.

“That is definitely a concern, because that is more work,” McRae said. “Those counselors or someone has to keep up with all of that.”

In the February meeting, the yes votes came from Gov. Ivey, District 2 Rep. Tracie West, District 4 Rep. Dr. Yvette Richardson, District 5 Rep. Dr. Tonya Chestnut, District 6 Rep. Dr. Cynthia McCarty and District 7 Rep. Belinda McRae.

Those opposed to the proposal were District 1 Rep. Jackie Zeigler, District 3 Rep. Stephanie Bell and District 8 Rep. Dr. Wayne Reynolds.

Contact information for each board member can be found on the Alabama State Department of Education website. Board members encourage the public to reach out with comment between now and the board meeting on April 8. To figure out who your Alabama State Board of Education rep is you can check out the zoning map on the ASDE website.

If the proposal gets the necessary votes, the FAFSA would become a graduation requirement for the 2021-2022 school year. The vote is happening during the SBOE meeting on April 8.

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