Gov. Rick Scott may have vetoed Senate President Joe Negron’s top priority higher education bill, but that hasn’t stopped the Stuart Republican from championing the progress of Florida’s college and university system regardless.
On Wednesday, Negron gave his fellow senators a quick update on a few of his chamber’s higher education priorities, saying Florida is largely on the right track in terms of educational progress.
Negron said tens of thousands of students returning to the state’s colleges and universities will rest easy with a higher level of financial security — that, Negron told senators, will lead to a domino effect in graduation rates, increasing the likelihood students will graduate on time.
Nestled in the state’s $82 billion budget is adequate funding to send 43,000 university students and 2,000 college students back to school with a 100 percent Bright Futures scholarship, which pays for tuition and fees for the fall semester.
Students in the Bright Futures program also receive a $300 book stipend for the fall and spring semesters, bringing the total boost in this year’s funding to around $3,000 for full-time university students and $1,500 for full-time college students.
On top of those numbers, 17,000 more students will be able to attend summer classes using the Bright Futures scholarship program.
Negron told senators he felt personally compelled to fight for the Bright Futures program as a result of his own experience as a college undergrad.
“I distinctly recall the uncertainty and apprehension I experienced waiting in line at the Bursar’s Office as an undergraduate student and hoping that everything was in proper financial order so I could be cleared to take classes,” Negron said. “I feel a deep sense of obligation to the tens of thousands of students and families who are reasonably relying on Bright Futures scholarships their students have earned.”
Scholarship and financial assistance opportunities didn’t stop there. Negron also noted a $121 million increase in the total investment in need-based aid via the Florida Student Assistance Grant, which he said would give nearly 109,000 previously unfunded college and university students an average of $1,110 in aid.
“As Florida students and their families plan for their investment in a college or university education, they deserve the financial security that comes with the permanent changes in law contemplated in SB 374,” Negron said. “We want our students and their families to know these critical need-based and merit-based scholarship funds will be available throughout their academic journey.”
Despite Scott’s veto of his signature higher education bill last month, Negron was still appreciative of efforts made by the Department of Education to implement many of the financial assistance provisions set out in SB 374, thanking both the DOE and Gov. Scott for their commitment to Florida’s students.
“I am also grateful to the leaders of the BOG and our state universities for embracing many important policy enhancements contained in SB 374,” Negron said.
Still, Negron said it was up to lawmakers to ensure real, lasting changes were made to help Florida’s college and university students.
“In reality, however, only through legislation can we provide certainty to students, parents, and our universities that the provisions we worked so hard to pass in SB 374 will be permanent,” he said.
Negron said he “looked forward” to discussing higher education issues when interim committee weeks begin in September.