PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation on June 27 that would alter the requirements for Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship Program to take into consideration qualifying work experience for applicants and put a college education within reach of more students.
“I am a big believer in higher education,” he said at a press conference in Hillsborough County, where he formally signed HB 461.
HB 461 adds to the existing program a provision that will allow for work hours to be counted instead of community service hours, something the governor said disenfranchised a lot of students who were faced with helping their families financially.
“It is important that this is something that’s attainable for people and that is not going to have a massive millstone of debt around the neck of everybody that graduates from these institutions.”
DeSantis said he didn’t want to see students “mortgage their entire future just to get a piece of paper.”
In 1997, the legislature tacked a volunteer work requirement onto the Bright Futures Program which, in turn, created an “unintended consequence” of leaving behind many working students from seeking the scholarship.
Florida state Rep. Lauren Melo, a Republican, sponsored the bill to make sure Bright Futures would be available to those students “facing financial challenges.”
“We blocked the financial support from some of those who need it the most,” Melo said during a debate on the bill in February. “Not everyone can volunteer in lieu of earning a paycheck.”
HB 461, which Melo filed, wouldn’t affect the academic, test scores, or class requirements on any of the scholarships. However, the service hours can now be met with volunteer service to a “qualified nonprofit, through paid work” as approved by a school district, or a combination of both.
Before DeSantis signed the bill, The Bright Futures Scholarship Program required 100 service hours for Florida Academic Scholars, the highest-level program, along with a 3.5-grade point average (GPA) and an ACT score of 29, or an SAT score of 1330. If qualifications were met, students would receive a scholarship that covered 100 percent of tuition and fees at an in-state college or university. A similar amount toward tuition applied to an in-state private school as well.
The Florida Medallion Scholars, the second-tier program, required 75 hours of service as well as a GPA of 2.75, an ACT score of 25, and SAT score of 1210.
Florida’s Gold Seal Career and Professional Education Scholarship program also had a volunteer requirement of 30 hours, in addition to five credit hours of industry certification classes.
High school student Blake Dolenbeck has aspirations of attending the University of Florida next year after he graduates. Until the signing of the measure, he said he was worried he wouldn’t realize that dream because working at his family’s shop didn’t allow him time for community service. For the past six years, he said he has attended Florida Virtual School.
“This just opens up new opportunities for me that I just can’t even imagine,” he told an audience in Hillsborough County, alongside the governor. “I have had a job for the past three years where I work in my family’s ice cream shop—but it does not give me that much time to do community service, so this really means the world to me.”