It’s one of the first questions that a Florida high school student asks when thoughts turn toward college. And while there are three variations of these scholarships — the Academic, the Medallion, and the Gold Seal Vocational — every Floridian knows the two magic words that open the higher ed scholarship-seeking process:
Bright Futures. Bright Futures. Bright Futures.
To his great credit, Rep. James Bush wants to bring a similar elegance and simplicity to the K-12 scholarship-seeking process in Florida. The Miami Democrat recently introduced a measure that would organize all of Florida’s K-12 school choice scholarships under a single banner named for Florida’s most legendary educator: Mary McLeod Bethune.
If Bush has his way, Florida families looking to take advantage of the Sunshine State’s myriad school choice scholarship options would not first need a Ph.D. in Education Program Nomenclature.
They’d just need to know one word to get started: Bethune. Bethune. Bethune.
From there, the eligibility details of the different K-12 scholarships would become relevant (just as they do at the higher ed level). But the ease of entering the scholarship-seeking process would probably facilitate greater parental usage of school choice programs. And the elevation of Bethune’s name would surely accomplish Bush’s primary goal in initiating this legislation — to honor a great Floridian whose story needs to be better known.
Naming Florida’s K-12 scholarships for Bethune would be a fitting tribute to the Daytona Beach educator who initially served a student population very similar to Florida’s first school choice scholarship recipients. This no doubt explains why a young adult group of former K-12 scholarship students, led by Denisha Merriweather of Black Minds Matter, is organizing a social media campaign to promote the idea of bringing all K-12 scholarships under the Bethune umbrella.
One such former recipient, Hera Varmah, studied at Tampa Catholic High School on a K-12 scholarship before going on to graduate at Florida A&M University. She says: “This Rattler is 100% behind the Bethune Scholarships idea!”
Former scholarship recipients aren’t the only Floridians interested in honoring Bethune. Bush says he expects to get broad bipartisan support in the Legislature for his proposal. And it’s hard to imagine Gov. Ron DeSantis rejecting such a measure, especially since he owes his 2018 election to a group of 100,000 African American “School Choice Moms” who voted for him over Democrat Andrew Gillum.
The timing of Bush’s initiative seems perfect. He’s aiming to have the adoption of this measure coincide with the unveiling of a new Bethune statue in the U.S. Capitol next spring. And he’s hoping that the passage of this initiative will serve as a reminder that, even in our divisive age, all Floridians can agree that Mary McLeod Bethune is worthy of honor.
So, three cheers for Bush and his timely initiative. Let’s hope his House and Senate colleagues swiftly approve this effort to pay tribute to the woman who founded the private faith-based school that became Bethune-Cookman University.
Then, the K-12 scholarship-seeking process will begin with the elegance and simplicity of the higher ed scholarship-seeking process: “Shouldn’t we seek to get a Bethune Scholarship for our child?”
And Floridians everywhere will have yet another reason to remember the name of our state’s greatest educator: Bethune. Bethune. Bethune!
William Mattox is the director of the J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options at The James Madison Institute. JMI Founder Dr. Marshall was a longtime member of the Board of Trustees at Bethune-Cookman University.