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Dan Marino vocational college gets first nod

Football great Dan Marino didn’t make it to the Senate Higher Education Committee meeting this morning. His plane was unable to land due to fog.

But his foundation’s proposal to create a residential vocational college for students with disabilities didn’t need the former Miami Dolphin’s star power: It sailed through the committee, anyway.

SB 1616, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, would establish the Dan Marino Foundation Vocational College in Broward County. The school would offer educational programs, work skills and support services to students ages 18 to 26 who have developmental disabilities.

A state report last year found that those students have limited options beyond high school. Most are not eligible to enroll in college credit programs because they do not have a standard high school diploma. Some school districts offer basic transition services but only three entities – University of North Florida, Indian River State College in Vero Beach and Brewster Technical Center in Tampa – offer vocation certificates for students with developmental disabilities.

The school’s set-up would be similar to that of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.

It’s unclear how much state funds the school would require at this point. A legislative analysis put construction costs at $36 million and operational costs at anywhere from $1.2 million to $40 million.

Former state representative Susan Goldstein, who now lobbies for the foundation, said those numbers were way off because the foundation has already bought a three-story building for the facility and is donating $4 million toward the project.

Goldstein, who has a 19-year-old daughter with disabilities, said the new school would fill a need she’d seen firsthand.

“The people that can afford to pay for their children to be self-sufficient don’t have an option,” she said.

Sen. Maria Sachs, a Delray Democrat, told the committee that she, too, had a special needs child and knew how hard it is to find a place that can help teach independent living.

“It’s a problem to find a place to teach them skills,” she said. “They really do want to work, and get a bus ticket and ride around and have fun.”