Arizona students may have an option to join the workforce while still in high school as early as next year if a proposed bill by Rep. John Fillmore is passed during the upcoming legislative session.

HB 2002 was introduced in the House of Representatives by the Republican from District 16 with bipartisan support as Rep Frank Carroll, a Republican, and Rep. Geraldine Peten, a Democrat, are co-sponsors for the bill. Fillmore said the goal of the bill is to create an Arizona student apprenticeship program within the Department of Education.

“It’s not like people think of with typical apprenticeship in brick laying, or plumbing, or something like that,” Fillmore said. “I’m talking retailing, the health industry, real estate, or warehousing.”

The bill tasks the Department of Education to come up with some of the specifics, such as application procedures, selection criteria, and completion requirements, but it lays a framework for how the program would operate.

According to the bill, the goal is, “to provide job training and economic opportunity to high school students in the state.” Fillmore said the program is mainly aimed at “non-college oriented kids.”

The program would match each student with an approved employer. The employer would be responsible for providing job training and a flexible schedule. The student would also be paid the prevailing wage for the industry.

“Arizona really doesn’t have a program and for rural communities like in Mohave County sometimes it is hard finding people willing to make long-term commitments to kids as employees,” Fillmore said.

But the bill also gives the students a financial incentive to complete the program. According to the bill, the employer would set up an interest accruing account for each employee, where they would deposit at least 10 percent of each paycheck, in addition to matching the funds.

When a student completes the program they would receive all the money that has been saved up in the account.

“They can get married, or make a down payment on a house or a car,” Fillmore said. “Compare that to kids that we push to go to college who are not college-oriented. Even if they are college-oriented after four years they may be in a major that they can’t get a job in and they are $30,000 in debt. So there are kids right now that the State of Arizona doesn’t have anything going for that is going to have a four-year job and $18,000 to $30,000 that they can use for a step up on life, or they can be $30,000 in debt. That is a good program.”

If the student does not complete the course they would only receive the money that was taken from their paycheck. The employer would retain the matching funds, and the accrued interest would go to the state general fund.

The bill also aims to offset some or all of the cost to the business matching the deposits with a tax credit for an unspecified amount for each graduate.

Proposed requirements

In order to be admitted into the program proposed in the bill, the student would have to be enrolled in a public high school along with submitting an application, proof they are on track to graduate on time, and proof that they have received an offer of employment from a participating business.

Businesses would be required to provide job training, flexible scheduling, and open an interest-bearing account on behalf of each participant.

The bill would also allow the Department of Education to add additional requirements for the program.

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