Alabama State School Board mandates high school seniors to fill out or opt out of FAFSA application

Updated: Apr. 8, 2021 at 10:23 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Future high school graduates now have to add another step to their list of to-dos before graduation.

Starting with the class of 2022, high school seniors will be required to complete or opt-out of the Free Application for Student Aid or FAFSA before graduating high school.

Board members who voted for this new mandate say there are millions of dollars in college aid going unused in Alabama.

Last year, less than half of Alabama seniors filled out a FAFSA.

Supporters of the mandate hope it will help send more of those students to college, but some fear it will cause more headaches than good.

Guidance is crucial and students who don’t have that kind of guidance at home, they need it from the school.

Robin Duama, a retired teacher with Madison City Schools, is split. She says she does see the value in filling out the FAFSA.

“Sometimes students don’t think it’s possible because of financial reasons or logistics, and they just need someone to sit with them to just let them see what kind of resources might be available,” she explained.

But, she says the resources have to come from somewhere.

This mandate is unfunded. Which means, school districts in Alabama are now tasked with reporting FAFSA application numbers back to the state, whether they are completed or a family opts out.

“I believe that unfunded mandates from a 30 year educator perspective often cause more trouble and stress to already stressed out school staff and administration. To put that on regular counselors at most schools is going to be real burdensome,” Duama said.

Dr. Eric Mackey, the State School Superintendent says schools can designate any employee to do the job.

“We will not stipulate from the department, this is the person in your high school that must account for this, but someone in the high school will have to account for it,” Dr. Mackey said.

He added another goal of the mandate is to help grow the state’s workforce.

Tim McCartney, Chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council sent us this statement, it reads in part:

“This change will help more Alabamians get assistance they need for workforce training and prepare for a career pathway in a good-paying job. Federal Pell Grants are a key part of Alabama’s workforce development as more than 36 percent of these grants are awarded for certificate and associate degree programs.”

We talked to Wayne Reynolds, the state school board member for District 8 who voted against the mandate.

He urged the board to have the waiver to opt out of the application easily accessible online.

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