First-of-its-kind educational program for incarcerated youth to launch in Florida

by | May 18, 2023

  • Florida has passed Senate Bill 7014 to establish the “Florida Scholars Academy” within the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to provide educational opportunities for teenagers serving criminal sentences in juvenile residential facilities.
  • The academy aims to offer high school diplomas, equivalency diplomas, college or university degree programs, and industry-recognized credentials to incarcerated students.
  • The academy will be managed by a five-member Board of Trustees, responsible for its daily operations, financial management, and academic development, with a contractual agreement with an education service provider imminent.

With this week’s passage of Senate Bill 7014, the state of Florida is establishing the “Florida Scholars Academy” within the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) which serves to offer educational opportunities for teenagers serving criminal sentences in a juvenile residential facility. The education model is the first of its kind in the country and intends to operate as a national model.

The program will provide incarcerated students with an opportunity to earn a high school diploma or equivalency diploma, enroll in a degree program at a state college or university, or earn industry-recognized credentials. The academy would not be made available to student-aged individuals serving a sentence in an adult facility.

“I am proud to have sponsored SB 7014 because providing these young people with high-quality educational opportunities will help to keep them from reoffending which will ultimately lead to safer communities,” said Sen. Jonathan Martin, a primary sponsor of the bill. “Providing these students access to a seamless education that tailors to their competencies will ensure they reenter the community with the tools they need to be productive citizens.”

Under the bill, the Florida Scholars Academy would be required to “enter into a contractual agreement with an education service provider with a proven track record of success.” The provider would be accountable for administering all educational services to the academy’s enrolled students.

The legislation also outlines a five-member Board of Trustees that would manage the academy’s daily operations. The Board will include the DJJ secretary or a designee, the appointed superintendent of the Florida Scholars Academy, and three members appointed by the governor.

The trustees would be required to meet at least four times each year and would be responsible for the academy’s financial and academic development. Each board member would serve for a term of four years.

“The Florida Scholars Academy is going to create powerful change for youth in the DJJ’s residential programs,” said Rep. Berny Jacques, who filed the House companion legislation in February. “It will significantly expand the options these students have as they venture into the workforce and in their pursuit of higher education.”

In Fiscal Year 2021-2022, 2,388 youths were served across 44 DJJ residential commitment programs. Prior to the passage of SB 7014, educational services were provided by the local school district where the residential program was located. The Florida Scholars Academy will allow the department to contract for educational services on a statewide basis.


%d bloggers like this: