Photo of stacks of coins saved for education

In a recent interview, Dean Saunders sat down with The Land Journal to discuss how he helped create Florida's Bright Futures program.

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Since 1985, Dean has specialized in Florida land and conservation easements. He served in the US Senate as Agricultural Liaison, Special Assistant, and Director of External Affairs to US Senator Lawton Chiles, then Governor Chiles (D-FL).

From 1992 to 1996 he served in the Florida House of Representatives, where his strong passion for supporting landowner property rights and conserving the integrity of a property’s natural resources culminated in his authorship of groundbreaking conservation legislation. He comes from an eighth-generation Florida agricultural family, earned a BSA from the University of Florida in Fruit Crops, Food and Resource Economics, and is a recognized Florida land and conservation easement authority.

In the interview, Saunders described his initial inspiration for what would eventually become the Bright Futures program.

He began by explaining that the proceeds from the Florida Lottery had mostly been given directly to the individual school districts around the state.

However, during a recession that hit in 1990, those funds were more widely distributed throughout the government, causing those that had voted for the Florida Lottery to feel a sense of betrayal. 

In 1992, when Saunders was elected to the Florida Legislature, he received many complaints in public about the uses of the Florida Lottery funds. 

"If I went to the grocery store," Saunders said "I would have to factor in at least fifteen to thirty minutes more for my trip because I was going to get stopped by people. And the main thing on their mind was the Florida Lottery." 

While attending a Florida Gators vs. Auburn Tigers football game in the mid-nineties, Saunders was speaking to an Auburn fan in the stands and was surprised to hear that his daughter was going to be starting college at the University of Georgia. When Saunders asked why the daughter of an Auburn fan from Alabama would be going to school in Georgia, the Auburn fan replied that the decision was largely based on the Hope Scholarship program offered in Georgia. 

According to Saunders, the Auburn fan "proceeded to tell me about how their lottery dollars were being used ... for scholarships for college. And he described how that process worked. And that's how he decided to send his daughter to Georgia as opposed to Auburn. Because he got it paid for free. And I thought 'oh my gosh this is brilliant. This is the answer to the Florida Lottery."

"When I got back into the office on Monday, I called the Commissioner of Education and said 'Frank, I've got the answer for the lottery. We need to create a program similar to the one they have in Georgia.' And he said to me, "I've been thinking the same thing, I've already got my staff working on it. Why don't you be our House Sponsor?" 

To learn what happens next, make sure to read the next two parts of this article. 

Watch a video of the interview below:

 

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