College-bound students seeking a Bright Futures scholarship could soon meet volunteer hour requirements through a regular job.
The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (HB 461) that would allow work, whether paid or not, to count. Rep. Lauren Melo, a Naples Republican, filed the bill to make sure the scholarship would be available to those students facing financial challenges.
She said when the Legislature in 1997 tagged a volunteer work requirement to the Bright Futures Program, it created an unintended consequence of discouraging many working students from seeking the scholarship.
“We blocked the financial support from some of those who need it the most,” Melo said. “Not everyone can volunteer in lieu of earning a paycheck.”
The Bright Futures Program today requires 100 service hours for Florida Academic Scholars, the highest-level program. That program also requires a grade point average of 3.5 and an ACT score of 29 or SAT score of 1330. In return, students receive a scholarship for 100% of tuition and fees at a state college or university, or a similar amount toward tuition at an in-state private school.
The second-tier Florida Medallion Scholars program requires 75 service hours, as well as a GPA of 3.0 and an ACT of 25 or SAT of 1210.
The trade-school oriented Florida Gold Seal Career and Professional Education Scholarship also has a volunteer requirement of 30 hours, in addition to five credit hours work of industry certification classes.
Melo’s bill would not impact the academic, test score or class requirements on any of the scholarships. But the service hours could now be met with volunteer service to a qualified nonprofit, through paid work as approved by a school district, or a combination of both.
Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat who voted for the bill, expressed some concern whether this would result in the bulk of students electing to work instead of volunteer. “I know a lot of children or students are having a hard time, particularly in this economy, so this bill is super helpful,” Nixon said. “But I would love it if students continue to volunteer if you can.”
But Rep. Fred Hawkins, a St. Cloud Republican, said he believes that fear will prove unfounded. “As someone who works in the private sector with Bright Futures students, a lot say they can’t afford to volunteer,” he said. “But I think a lot of parents still will have their children volunteer. I hope so. That’s good parenting.”
The bill heads now to the House Education & Employment Committee. A companion bill in the Senate (SB 1060) by Sen. Travis Hutson also advanced in the Senate Education Committee and heads to the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.