Putnam says Florida must fix "talent gap" to keep jobs

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Contending that Florida has a "talent gap" when it comes to jobs, the top Republican contender for governor wants the state's middle and high schools to dramatically boost their vocational and technical education programs.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is rolling out details of his plan Monday at campaign stops in the Tampa area and Panama City.

Putnam says that if Florida is to continue its current job growth, it needs to better prepare students who don't pursue a four-year degree.

"Florida needs to change the conversation surrounding career and technical education and realize the launch pad for the American Dream is not built only on a four-year university degree," said Putnam in an advance copy of his remarks given to The Associated Press. "Students should not be told the only pathway to success is a college education, and they shouldn't be forced into student loan debt for a degree they can't use."

Putnam's decision to focus on vocational education is a reflection that education is expected to be a top issue during this year's wide-open race for governor. Some of the Democrats running for governor are pledging to push spending increases on schools or to revamp regulations related to charter schools.

Putnam's proposal calls for expanding apprenticeship programs for students and the types of technical education offered in high schools such as computer coding. He also wants to students to be able earn college credits for their vocational education, similar to Advanced Placement classes. Putnam also wants businesses to have more say on what types of courses are offered and make it easier to certify people to teach vocational and technical classes.

Putnam did not put a dollar figure on how much his proposal would cost.

Putnam is facing U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination to replace outgoing Gov. Rick Scott. Scott cannot run for governor again due to term limits.

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Reporter Gary Fineout contributed to this story.


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