Hernando County's effort to launch an adult technical education program has been hobbled so far by a familiar foe:
A lack of money.
That problem could go away soon.
Tucked into the Florida House's proposed 2013-14 budget is $1.5 million dedicated to creating an adult technical training program in Hernando.
Local officials say the center is critical to the goal of retraining the county's workforce and reducing Hernando's high unemployment rate. For several years, Hernando has struggled with one of the highest unemployment rates in Florida — 9 percent in February.
The money was added to the House appropriations bill by Rep. Robert Schneck, R-Spring Hill, who said he feels it's important for the county.
"Obviously, it is something that has lacked for a while compared to surrounding counties — both in practice and dollar-wise," Schenck said.
He said the money, if ultimately approved, will help develop the local economy by properly training workers and luring more jobs to the county.
He said there's nothing special about the $1.5 million amount.
"I felt that would be more than enough to get a healthy program going in Hernando," he said. "Not only for a minimal program, but a strong program."
County officials are ecstatic about the prospect of the financial boost.
Hernando School Board chairman Matt Foreman said one of the biggest obstacles to getting the program off the ground has been funding.
"This gives us the bump that we needed in a big way," Foreman said. "It enables us to get out of the blocks strong."
Hernando County business development manager Michael McHugh agreed.
"This certainly could accelerate our opportunities very, very rapidly," he said. "It's an incredible gesture to our workforce effort and to our community."
McHugh, who has been a key player in the attempt to bring adult technical education to the county, said the money could be used for programs, equipment or research, which would provide the county with more information about what kinds of courses to offer.
"It is still an expensive proposition to set up educational programs," he said.
It's also a difficult one.
Hernando County tried offering three courses in February with little success.
Two of the three courses were closed after an insufficient number of students enrolled. The third course only taught Microsoft Word 2010 and was criticized for not meeting the stated goal of retraining the workforce.
Courses will again be offered in September, according to school district officials. The district is looking at courses in the culinary arts, production, cosmetology and home health.
There are still some hurdles before the $1.5 million is a done deal.
While the allocation is included in the House's proposed budget, it is not yet in the Senate version. It will need to survive negotiations between the House and Senate before going to Gov. Rick Scott, who has the power to veto it.
Schenck isn't worried.
"I am 100 percent confident it will be there at the end of the budget process," he said.
Whether or not the district gets the money from the state, it appears the program's financial position is improving.
McHugh says his office has raised $12,500 in private funds for the program. The school district is expected to match that.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.