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Florida Bright Futures rules need some tightening, senator says



When Florida lawmakers created the Bright Futures scholarship in 1997, one goal was to provide the state's high school graduates more access to Florida universities. They set up the framework and funding, and the award program became wildly popular.

As time passed, though, it became clear that not all students had to do the same things to earn a scholarship, particularly in the area of community service.

"You have different definitions being drafted by different school districts," said state Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and former Senate president.

The guidelines set forth in law allowed it to happen, said Lee, who also served in the Senate when the scholarship was established. They didn't set clear rules for volunteer hours, he explained, or a process for ensuring the hours were valid.

So he's proposed legislation to tighten the process. Lee's SB 566 would state, among other things, that the service hours may include, but would not be limited to "a business or government internship, work for a nonprofit community service organization, or activity on behalf of a candidate for public office. The hours of service work must be documented in writing, and the document must be signed by the student, the student’s parent or guardian, and a representative of the organization for which the student performed the service work."

"We want to make sure that, basically, extracurricular volunteer activities ... are all counted, provided the parent is involved and everyone signs off on it," Lee said.

The Bright Futures scholarships have been targeted in recent years for funding reductions, but lawmakers have experienced pushback against the proposed changes. More recommendations for the program are likely as session approaches. Stay tuned.

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 10:14am]


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