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College scholarship programs get House backing

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, is sponsoring the proposal (HB 55).
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, is sponsoring the proposal (HB 55). (News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A House panel on Wednesday signed off on two new scholarship programs that would support students who attend historically black colleges and universities or state colleges and career centers.

One of the proposals, called the Sunshine Scholarship Program, would fully cover tuition and fees for students who are Florida residents and pursue associate degrees or career certificates at state colleges or career centers operated by school districts.

To be eligible, students would need to have annual household incomes of $50,000 or less and maintain a 2.5 grade point average and full-time enrollment as long as they receive scholarship funds.

There is a caveat, though.

When students graduate, they would be required to live and work in Florida for the same amount of time they benefited from the Sunshine Scholarship Program awards.

“If they leave the state, they will have to pay the state back,” Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who is sponsoring the proposal (HB 55), said before the House Higher Education & Career Readiness Subcommittee approved the measure Wednesday.

The intent of that provision, he said, is to “keep good talent” in Florida. His bill, however, would not mandate students who enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces repay the state for the scholarships.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said he is co-sponsoring the proposal because it is “outstanding” to see state-based scholarships benefit students who want to attend state colleges and not just four-year institutions.

“A four-year institution is not necessarily the solution for every student,” Smith said.

The second scholarship program approved by the House panel is designed to help students who enroll at the four historically black colleges and universities in Florida.

Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson, D-Fort Pierce, said the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Matching Endowment Scholarship Program would be “one way to continue to support students of financial need.”

To launch the scholarship, the Legislature would need to appropriate $2 million to the program, and each historically black college and university that wants to participate would need to provide $500,000 in matching funds.

All funds would go into a trust fund, which would be administered by the Florida Department of Education. Interest accumulated in the trust fund would be used for scholarships.

Under the bill (HB 383), scholarships would need to be awarded to “enrolled students with unmet financial needs.” The four historically black colleges and universities are Bethune-Cookman University, Edward Waters College, Florida A&M University and Florida Memorial University.

The two scholarship-program bills each need to get approval from two more House panels before they can go to the full House.

In the Senate, a bill that would implement the Sunshine Scholarship program has been approved by one of its three assigned committees. A bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, that includes the historically black college and university scholarship program has not been heard in the Senate.

About the Author:

Ana Ceballos is a state government and politics reporter for the News Service of Florida. She previously worked as the USA Today Network's Florida capitol reporter and the legislative relief reporter for the Associated Press.