TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nearly a decade after the Great Recession, Florida may finally restore one of its main programs that aids students headed to college.
The state Legislature late Monday approved an overhaul of the state’s higher education system that is intended to lift schools in the Sunshine State into the ranks of elite counterparts.
A key part of the legislation now headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott would require the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a state university or college. Florida used to pay 100 percent of tuition for those eligible for the top level of the state’s Bright Futures scholarship, but it was scaled back when the economy soured.
Those students eligible for the top award would also be able to use their Bright Futures scholarship – which is paid from lottery ticket sales – on summer courses for the first time.
Senate President Joe Negron, who called for having schools in Florida rival other public universities such as University of Virginia and University of North Carolina, pointed out that legislators agreed to spend nearly $600 million to increase financial aid and to boost spending in state universities. The new state budget nearly doubles the amount of financial aid provided to low-income students.
The Stuart Republican asserted the changes in the bill (SB 374) would encourage students to graduate faster.
“I believe Florida taxpayers will see a return worthy of their investment when our top Florida students attend our own colleges and universities, complete degree programs on-time, and then graduate with job opportunities in high-demand fields needed in our growing communities,” Negron said.
Some Democrats questioned why the state was not boosting money available in other scholarship programs. Some Tampa Bay area legislators also were upset because a last-minute change pushed by Negron prevented University of South Florida from being eligible for money intended to the state’s top universities. Currently only The University of Florida and Florida State University qualify for the extra money.
Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, said her hometown school was “cheated” by the maneuver.
The House voted 85-27 for the bill, while the Senate approved the legislation by a 35-3 vote.