Florida Senate looking to boost financial aid for Bright Futures
Republicans in the Florida Senate are again moving ahead with a proposal to boost financial aid for college students.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, filed a bill (SB 4) Wednesday that would require the state to permanently cover 100 or 75 percent of all tuition costs for top high school students who attend a Florida university or college. If it became law, it would help about 94,000 students.
Legislators scaled back the amount paid by Bright Futures scholarships during the height of the Great Recession. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has promised to restore funding.
The Florida Legislature passed a similar bill earlier this year, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. Some Bright Futures recipients are getting 100 percent of their tuition paid this school year but, because of the veto, the increase is good for just one year.
While that’s the major expansion of financial aid in the bill, there are several other important ones:
Benacquisto scholarships: Currently, these scholarships cover the remainder of tuition for Florida residents who receive a National Merit Scholar or National Achievement Scholar award and a Bright Futures scholarship. Under the new bill, students who graduated from an out-ofstate high school can enroll in a Florida college or university, move to the state for the next fall semester and qualify for in-state tuition and receive a Benacquisto scholarship to cover the remainder of tuition after a National Merit Scholar or National Achievement Scholar award.
First Generation Matching Grant: Under the current program, donors’ money is matched by state money in grants given to financially needy students who are first in their family to attend a university. If this bill passes, the $1 for $1 match would be increased to a $2 state match for every $1 in donations to the program, and state college students would also qualify.
Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship: This new program would pay tuition for up to 50 Florida farmworkers each year based on financial need. These scholarships could not go to immigrants who entered the country illegally.
The bill also tightens requirements for state universities termed “preeminent state universities,” which qualify for additional state funding. Currently, these universities have to graduate 70 percent of their students within six years. Under the new bill, they must graduate 60 percent within four years.
Universities and colleges could also get more funding to recruit and retain first-class faculty, with state money going to faculty research, postdoctoral fellowships and other areas meant to attract top professors. Along with graduation rates and the number of small classes offered to undergraduates, the success of the program would be determined by increases in national rankings, such as those published by U.S. News and World Report, which the bill specifically mentions.
Finally, the bill would also put more money into medicine, law and graduate-level business courses.