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Florida lawmakers could add $25 million to Bright Futures

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers next week will consider pumping an additional $25.3 million into the Bright Futures scholarship program amid higher-than-expected student participation this year.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which is made up of House and Senate leaders and can make mid-year budget changes, is scheduled to take up the issue Jan. 24, according to an agenda posted online Thursday.

Lawmakers provided nearly $520 million for the Bright Futures program in this budget year. But the latest estimate from state analysts showed an increase in qualifying students could push the cost to about $545 million.

The Department of Education is requesting that lawmakers approve an additional $25.3 million for the program, which is funded through what is known as the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. That trust fund receives money from the Florida Lottery.

With backing from key lawmakers such as former Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the Legislature has dramatically increased higher-education financial aid programs in recent years.

Lawmakers, for example, expanded top-level Bright Futures awards to cover full tuition and fees, as well as to pay for some textbooks.