Rick Scott

Rick Scott

Legislation approved by Gov. Rick Scott will make the increases to Bright Futures in the 2017-2018 school year permanent.

Scott signed two sweeping education bills into law on Sunday. One will permanently expand Bright Futures for the top two tiers of award recipients and prevent public universities and colleges from restricting speech to “free-speech zones.” The other is an expansive bill that will provide scholarship funding for bullied students to transfer to an eligible private school and threatens to decertify teacher unions if their membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent.

“This is an election year promise to the students of this state that we will provide every single one of you, to the best of our ability, a world-class education — the one that you deserve,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a press conference.

The top tier of Bright Futures, “Academic Scholar,” will have 100 percent of tuition and fees covered, as well as a $300 stipend for textbooks. In the 2016-2017 school year, about 15,700 UF students received the top award, according to a UF Student Financial Affairs fiscal summary. Recipients can also use their scholarship for summer enrollment beginning this summer.

During the 2016-2017 school year, about 7,500 UF students received the second-tier “Medallion Scholar” award, according to the fiscal summary. Following this legislation, “Medallion Scholars” will have 75 percent of their tuition and fees covered, including during summer term.

The bill will help boost the performance of the university as well as its students, UF spokesperson Margot Winick wrote in an email.

“UF is grateful for the Florida Legislatures’ commitment to this important investment in state funding for higher education,” she said.

Winick said funding to UF would not only directly benefit students but also could be used to hire faculty, enhance graduate and professional degree programs.

The bill also creates the “Hope Scholarship,” which will provide vouchers for public school students who are bullied and wish to transfer to a private school. The scholarship will be funded by motorists who opt to contribute their sales taxes on purchased vehicles to the organization.

Kailey Hart, a UF zoology sophomore, said receiving the “Academic Scholar” award from Bright Futures lifts a big financial burden off of herself and her family.

“It’s been really nice because I’ve had more time to dedicate toward school,” the 19-year-old said.

In the past, Hart felt that the state government didn’t invest enough money in its education system. Now with the permanent expansion of Bright Futures, she feels that her hard work in high school is finally paying off.

“It makes it feel very much worth it,” she said.

Contact Jessica Giles at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jessica_giles_.

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Jessica Giles is a junior journalism major and Commission Reporter for The Alligator. Starting as a copyeditor in the Spring 2017, she now covers all city and county affairs. She'll never turn down a cup of coffee or the opportunity to pet a beagle.