TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran late Wednesday signed an emergency order that eases some eligibility requirements for awards under the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program.
Many graduating high-school seniors have struggled to complete volunteer service hours and improve SAT or ACT test scores after the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down schools and test sites this spring and early summer.
The order said Corcoran found it “necessary” to take steps such as partly suspending rules and laws that require students to complete volunteer service hours. Also, he extended a deadline to earn qualifying standardized test scores for the different types of scholarships offered in Bright Futures.
If students were unable to complete volunteer work during the 2019-2020 academic year, the order will allow them to submit statements from school counselors or authorized administrators that certify the students “had planned for, and intended to complete” the service hours.
“Such documentation shall be considered as evidence that a student has completed the required number of volunteer service hours for scholarship eligibility,” the order said.
Depending on the level of the Bright Futures scholarship award, students are required to complete at least 30 hours or up to 100 hours of volunteer service to qualify.
The order also extended the deadline to earn qualifying SAT and ACT scores to July 31. Ordinarily, high-school seniors would face a June 30 deadline for taking the tests, according to information on the Department of Education website.
Corcoran’s order said the moves are needed to “mitigate the impacts of the emergency and to promote the health, safety and welfare of persons connected with Florida’s educational system.”
“Sections of the SAT or ACT from different test dates may continue to be used to meet the test criteria through July 31, 2020, but test types cannot be mixed,” the order said.
The College Board has no scheduled dates for SAT administrations until Aug. 29, according to its website. Meanwhile, the ACT has test dates Saturday and July 18.
“Unfortunately, The College Board recently let us know they weren’t going to do tests in June and July, and we hope this order gives them the incentive to support seniors working on taking the test,” Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, told The News Service of Florida on Thursday.
The College Board noted on its website that it will provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of the calendar year, beginning in August.
“While the College Board cannot directly control capacity and test center availability, the organization is working with local high schools, colleges, and other sites to increase seating capacity in areas where August and September registration are filling up,” the College Board states.
The ACT, however, has started administering tests earlier. Fenske said the organization has been working with the department and local school districts to open more test sites. It has already signed up 4,000 students to take the test in June, and will be prioritizing current seniors, she added.
“We’ve been helping ACT by working with districts and colleges to help them with opening any additional test sites needed,” Fenske said.