Florida Se­nate look­ing to boost fi­nan­cial aid for Bright Fu­tures

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - LOCAL - By Dan Sweeney Staff writer dsweeney@sun­sen­tinel.com

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.

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