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Concerns over newly approved FAFSA graduation requirement

Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 10:32 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Starting in 2022, Alabama high school seniors will have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or go through an opt-out process.

Supporters of the bill, like State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey and Gov. Kay Ivey, said this mandate will make sure every high schooler knows there is money out there to help them continue their eduction at a college, university or trade school.

On the other hand, Dave Weis, the President of the Madison County Board of Education, said this mandate creates more problems than it solves.

His chief concern is the private information parents have to disclose when they fill out the FAFSA.

“Now you’re going to require people whose children aren’t even going to go to school, potentially, to give out certain financial information and I just think it goes beyond the boundaries of a school board,” Weis said.

Information like non-taxable income, what you have in checking and savings accounts, investments and more.

Mackey said if people don’t want to give out this information then they can opt-out.

“If a parent wants to opt-out it is very simple to opt-out, there will be no issues with parents who want to opt-out,” he said. “We don’t think that will be a major issue, most people want to know how much money they could get to go to school.”

To opt-out of the FAFSA requirement, students have to get their parents to sign a waiver or sign the waiver themselves if they are 18 or older. Then the waiver has to go through a chain of people eventually ending up at the school system superintendent and then the state.

Weis questions the point of the mandate if you can just opt-out.

“That brings up the question, why are we even making it a mandate then?” he said. “It’s already an option for students to fill it out or not fill it out based on their needs, whether they are going to school, so why are we even doing it?”

Weis said another concern he has is funding. This mandate is unfunded, so despite bringing on more work for school staff, it won’t bring any extra money to help make sure that happens.

“Do we need to hire more counselors now and bring them in just to work this situation only?” Weis asked. “What additional instruction do these counselors need to give and are we going to get that instruction from the state?”

Now, someone will need to keep track of every senior, and if they opted-out or completed the FAFSA. That information then goes to the state.

Mackey said this will be more work for schools, but they’re giving school administration the freedom to decide how they want to do it so they can find the best way that works for them.

“We will not stipulate from the department, this is the person in your high school that needs to account for this, but somebody from the high school will have to do that just like they do for anything else that is on the transcript,” Mackey said.

The FAFSA requirement will go into effect in the 2021-2022 school year.

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