- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama Legislature is creating a scholarship program, funded by private donations, to help high school students take technology courses simultaneously at a community college in expectation of getting a good job at an Alabama industry.

A scholarship bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Mac Buttram of Cullman cleared the House 100-0 in February and passed the Senate 33-1 Tuesday. Gov. Robert Bentley said he will sign it into law.

High school students can currently participate in dual enrollment in career technology courses, such as welding or aviation mechanics, but it is usually at their parents’ expense. Buttram’s bill allows individuals and businesses to get state income tax credits for donating money to provide scholarships administered by Alabama’s two-year college system. They would get a 50 percent tax credit for their donations.

The maximum number of tax credits each year would be $5 million and that could provide $10 million in scholarships for 9,500 students annually, Buttram said.

He said the scholarship program will allow low-income students to participate in dual enrollment. “This can be a game changer for students who don’t have the opportunity now,” he said.

Republican Sen. Phil Williams of Rainbow City said participating students can end up with jobs paying $50,000 annually. “This is a win for this state,” he told the Senate.

Businesses that donate to the scholarship program can steer up to 80 percent of their donation to help train students in a particular field. Buttram said that makes business and education partners in making sure Alabama has a well-trained workforce.

The Legislature’s Republican majority made the bill a priority for the 2014 legislative session.

Bentley said expanding dual enrollment was one of the recommendations from the College and Career Ready Task Force he created last year. “Job creation is my top priority, and we must have the skilled workforce ready for the jobs we recruit,” the governor said.

Democratic Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma cast the lone vote against the bill. He said he supports dual enrollment, but the bill does not contain safeguards to make sure the program pays off financially.

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