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News Service of Florida: Campaign, corporate work could meet Bright Futures requirement

Monday, January 06, 2014

By Jim Turner

Corporate offices and political campaigns could be staffed in the future with high school students seeking to earn community service credit towards a Florida Bright Futures Scholarship.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, has filed a measure (SB 566) that would redefine the volunteer requirements for students seeking the popular state scholarship by allowing business internships and political campaigns to fulfill community service requirements.

Lee said the proposal is intended to clarify language for every school district regarding community service hours for the scholarships.

“There is nothing more core to our democracy as a philanthropic activity than getting engaged in a political campaign if you’re a young person who finds someone who inspires you to do so,” said Lee, who was in his first term in the Senate when the scholarship program was created in 1997. “Under Bright Futures, the whole idea was kids would give something back to our state. They would learn a little something about the culture of our history where we do expect people to give back in our country, and also gain some out of classroom experience.”

The time spent in a business or government internship would have to be unpaid. The same would go for the hours donating personal service to a political campaign or a non-profit organization.

“The League has a high level of discomfort with the idea of channeling high school students into partisan, highly-political activities in a candidate’s political campaign, with a low degree of administrative oversight,” League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab said.

Macnab said her organization supports activities that encourage young people to engage in public policy, such as a political campaign. But political campaigns and business internships don’t belong under an umbrella of community service, she said.

“Community service for (high school students) should provide a more neutral environment for young citizens, laying a groundwork for civil, neutral, non-profit work, with a more objective view of learning,” Macnab said.

Others said the measure may have merit but could require specifics about what types of business internships would qualify.

“If this is something that perhaps engages young people in to process, I don’t know that that is a bad thing,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. “You want to hope that whatever carries forward, there is some structure to it.”

Ed Moore, longtime president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, said the proposal may need to be expanded to avoid issues such as kids getting community service hours for work at businesses run or owned by their parents.

But he said the intent appears positive in that it could allow high school students to explore fields – through internships or volunteer work – which they may pursue in college.

“In this case it’s probably more career-oriented and I’d have a hard time arguing that is not a good thing,” Moore said. “The more people are exposed to a field the better off their decision making is going to be.”

Lee filed a similar proposal in the 2013 session that did not include professional internships as a potential scholarship credit-worthy activity. Rep. Pat Rooney, R-West Palm Beach, who is expected to file the House companion, suggested adding business internships to the bill, Lee said.

Students can receive the Florida Lottery-funded, merit-based scholarships to help cover tuition at Florida public colleges or universities if they meet certain academic requirements and community service hours. The hours must be approved by the school district or private school and be completed before the student graduates.

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