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Another Bright Futures boost? Florida lawmakers propose higher ed expansions

Galvano and negron

via @clairemcneill

Veto be darned.

Gov. Rick Scott may have nixed a huge higher education bill in June, but Florida lawmakers are already renewing their push to overhaul the state’s higher education system in the coming legislative session, starting with the tuition bills of top students.

Proposed legislation filed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would make permanent the Bright Futures boost that rewards more than 46,500 high-achieving Florida students by paying 100 percent of their tuition and fees at state universities.

Galvano and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, pushed for that expansion this past session, but the provision was lost with the veto. Students still benefited because money was set aside in the budget. Now Galvano and Negron want to make the change permanent.

They also have their sights set on another Bright Futures expansion, this time benefiting the second-tier Florida Medallion Scholars who could see 75 percent of their tuition and fees paid by the state.

Florida Medallion Scholars used to receive funding for 75 percent of their tuition and fees, but as Bright Futures expanded and the economy contracted, lawmakers cut back. Now Medallion Scholars receive much less, about $2,310 per year, toward tuition and fees that cost about $6,000 at state universities.

Medallion Scholars must have 3.0 weighted GPA; a 26 on the ACT or 1170 on the SAT; and 75 service hours. To hit the higher tier, Florida Academic Scholars, they need a 3.5 weighted GPA; a 29 on ACT or 1290 on the SAT; and 100 service hours.

The new bill would also:

-- Require universities to implement block tuition, which lets students pay a flat rate for tuition per semester, rather than by credit hour. Proponents say this incentivizes students to take more classes and gives them more flexibility, ultimately speeding up the path to graduation.

-- Change the way the state determines which universities deserve extra money for being preeminent, by judging them based on their 4-year graduation rates, rather than 6-year graduation rates.

-- Give a grace period to universities seeking preeminence status when it comes to that metric change. This will benefit the University of South Florida, which is on the cusp of preeminence under current standards. Any university that meets preeminence under current metrics will get to keep that status, and the funding, for 2018-19, regardless of the metric change.

-- “Tighten” university relationships with the leadership, funds and public disclosures of their direct-support organizations.

-- Expand need-based aid.

-- Require universities to identify internship opportunities for students.

-- Establish a program to help universities recruit “world-class” faculty.