Parents in the Florida Keys are watching closely how Florida Senate Bill 86 is evolving. And proposed amendments to the bill that would govern the Bright Future scholarship program have been nothing short of dramatic.

Initially, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, of Ocala, proposed to eliminate undesirable majors from study, ones he called “unhireable” or that do not lead to job opportunities. Students who received Bright Futures scholarships would not receive funding for those classes. He walked it back on March 23 in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, proposing to keep the list and offer students in those majors reduced funding, but students who are studying “desirable” majors would get full funding.

Bright Futures is a merit-based scholarship for high school students, funded by the Florida Lottery since 1997.

According to the state, almost 112,000 students qualified for Bright Futures in the 2019-2020 school year, receiving financial aid totaling about $618 million.

If Senate Bill 86 becomes law, it would take effect in 2023.

Currently, if a student receives a Bright Futures scholarship, the tuition grant — whether 100% or 75% (see below) — applies to the typical 120 hours required for a four-year college degree. However, Baxley also proposed to reduce the number of college credits if a high school student had already earned college credits through dual enrollment or advanced placement classes.

Sen. Baxley and proponents of the new bill say it ties scholarship to the economy and strengthens the merit aspect of the student grant. 

“Right now, we have a number of (students) that are being identified as unhireable at that juncture, and that’s why we’ve been so ambitious to try to bring these two worlds — the economy and the education model — closer together,” said Sen. Baxley.

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Seniors graduating this year already face a big hurdle: The standard test scores required for seniors graduating in 2021 were raised by the legislature in 2019. In 2021, the students earning 100% tuition must have scored a 1330 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT and students earning 75% tuition must have scored a 1210 on the SAT or 25 on the ACT. The required test scores are a big jump from previous requirements that were last changed in 2011.

Students must also have community service hours and a 3.5 or 3.25 GPA.

Students have until mid-summer to produce the test scores needed, when Bright Futures scholarships are confirmed. However, due to the pandemic, opportunities to take tests have been vastly reduced during the 2020-2021 school year. The Keys Weekly has heard many anecdotal accounts of Keys students taking the tests alongside students from the mainland, where ACT and SAT tests were canceled due to COVID-19 scores. Even in the Keys, testing dates were limited compared to previous years. 

Senate Bill 86 has passed the state Education Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. It moves next to the Appropriations Committee. However, it does not have a companion bill in the state House of Representatives and it’s unknown at this point whether one will be proposed. Without a House Bill it cannot be signed into law.  

Changes to property insurance bill

A law that would make significant changes to property insurance has stalled in the Florida Senate, but continues to advance in the House. 

Among other consequences, Senate Bill 76, would change current insurance practice of compensating for the full replacement of a damaged roof (say, by a hurricane) to replacement value. In the original bill, proposed by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, a metal roof that was more than 10 years old would only be reimbursed at 70% of its replacement value. Other types of roofs would be depreciated at a faster rate.

Senate Bill 76 has been stuck in the rules committee since March 11. On the House side, a similar bill passed the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee on March 23. 

The authors of both bills seek also to limit litigation against insurance companies. (Citizens Property Insurance is reportedly sued 800 times a month, according to floridapolitics.com.) The bill also proposes limiting attorney fees and citizens’ ability to start litigation from three years to two years after the damaging event. Opponents of the bills say there are better ways to limit litigation without hurting Florida homeowners who are facing increasing premiums on property insurance in the hurricane-prone state.

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