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Legislature OKs budget, adjourns; Scott signs education bills

Legislature OKs budget, adjourns; Scott signs education bills
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TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers ended their regular session on Sunday, adjourning in overtime after they overwhelmingly approved an $88.7 billion budget and a tax-cut package.

The House and Senate met for little more than an hour before finishing up their work at 4:17 p.m. The session had been scheduled to end Friday but was extended because lawmakers did not meet a budget deadline.

The House voted 95-12 to approve the budget (HB 5001), which was then approved by the Senate in a 31-5 vote.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Rick Scott signed two bills to expand Bright Futures scholarships and set up a new voucher program for bullied students.

One bill, SB 4, encourages universities to graduate students within four years and increases funds for Bright Futures scholarships and scholarships for low-income students. Academic scholars in Bright Futures can now receive 100 percent of tuition, Medallion scholars will get 75 percent of tuition and recipients will be able to use the money for summer credit hours.

“We’re going to try to make sure that every university is focused on getting these students out in four years so their cost of education is less and they get into the workforce as quickly as possible,” Scott said.

The bill was a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, who wanted to boost the quality and reputation of Florida’s university system. The bill also increases funding for universities to recruit top professors and faculty.

“This legislation will help more students graduate on-time, while elevating the national reputation of Florida’s excellent state universities,” Negron said. “(We) are telling Florida students and families that they can count on the Bright Futures Scholarship as they plan their investment in an education at one of our excellent colleges or universities.”

The other bill, HB 7005, was pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. It contains several provisions, including the “Hope Scholarship” program that gives the parents of bullied students a stipend to attend private school. The bill uses sales taxes on vehicle purchases to pay for the scholarships.

Democrats opposed the program, claiming it was a backdoor way to siphon money from public K-12 schools into private schools. But Corcoran said it was part of his push to offer a “world class education” to all students.

“Violence, intimidation, and abuse should never be a part of a child’s educational experience,” Corcoran said. “Before today students, teachers, and parents had few options to address such life-changing situations.”

Other parts of the bill, were decried by the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state. One provision would require teachers’ unions to state the number of employees they represent and specify which pay dues and which don’t. It also requires 50 percent of its members to pay dues.

Lawmakers are also poised to vote on an $88.7 billion budget later Sunday.

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.

grohrer@orlandosentinel.com or (850) 222-5564

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