Budget conference: Senate, House find merit in Benacquisto scholarships

Benacquisto square
Both chambers agreed to budget $4.3M to reward National Merit Scholars pursuing their education in-state.

Funding will be in place for Florida’s National Merit Scholars who pursue their college education in the state.

The House and Senate agreed to budget more than $4.3 million for the Benacquisto Scholarship program. Appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate had included the funding in their original budget proposals, and they have now officially closed out the item in negotiations between the chambers.

That’s a heavy boost from where the program stood just a couple years ago, when the House and Senate included a little less than $2.2 million for the scholarships.

Originally known as the National Merit Award scholarship, the program in 2019 was renamed for then-Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican and champion of the scholarship.

Benacquisto scholarships cover attendance costs at in-state postsecondary institutions for National Merit Scholars that aren’t already covered by Bright Futures or the National Merit Scholar program itself.

Both chambers of the Legislature have also agreed to budget more than $26.2 million for the Bright Futures programs, including Florida Academic Scholarships, Florida Medallion Scholarships, Gold Seal Cape Scholarships and Gold Seal Vocational Scholarships.

There’s also $4.8 million that both chambers agreed to fund to cover expected growth in the state’s Children and Spouses of Deceased/Disabled Veterans Scholarships.

To be eligible for the scholarship program, students named as National Merit Scholars must enroll in a Florida higher education institution for at least 12 credit hours in the academic term in a baccalaureate program and must live in Florida on or near their campus.

Beyond those receiving the national honor, the scholarships are also available to National Merit Corporate-Sponsored and College-Sponsored Scholars.

Nine Florida institutions participate in the scholarship program, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida State University, New College of Florida, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, the University of Miami and the University of South Florida. To receive the college-sponsored scholarships, students must list one of these institutions as a first choice and must attend the institution.

In order to maintain the scholarship, students must complete the minimum required hours and keep a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].



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