Florida requires high-school students to perform community service as a condition for the state-funded Bright Futures Scholarships.
In Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel editorial, Seminole County offers a “concise and convincing” explanation for why it is essential:
“To encourage students to develop a sense of responsibility for others within their community. To help students foster an understanding of the value of volunteerism and the rewards of helping others.”
The Sentinel editorial board agrees there is value in those lessons, something arising from a well-rounded education, as a role in stronger communities.
State Sen. Tom Lee recently proposed to change the definition of community service eligible under Bright Futures.
The Brandon Republican filed SB 566 to add unpaid work for political campaigns or business internships to meet the community service requirement.
There is no doubt volunteering for political campaigns can provide valuable information about government and politics. Many students lack an understanding of the workings of the political system, as former Congressman Lou Frey recently told the Sentinel. Frey was a leading activist for civic education in Florida.
Business internships provide job skills to get students ready for the working world when the time comes, to have an independent and creative adulthood.
Both activities would surely help students. But what about helping others, the Sentinel board asks.
Every community has programs that need more volunteers for helping Floridians — homeless, veterans, the elderly, disabled and kids at risk.
Obviously, politicians and businesses will take to Lee’s proposal. Few organizations would oppose additional unpaid labor.
However, expanding the definition of community service could diminish the number of young and enthusiastic volunteers opting for community-based service organizations.
Many groups simply cannot afford to lose extra help.
In a survey by the Corporation for National & Community Service, Florida placed 48th of 50 states and District of Columbia in the rate of volunteering. Only 21.4 percent of Florida residents donate time to community organizations.
On the other hand, Florida school districts differ in the types of activities and organizations that meet Bright Futures’ requirements for community service. Lee’s proposal can bring a level of consistency, resulting in a better and fairer system for students.
But the Sentinel sees expanding community service to include free labor for businesses and politicians would provide many students little opportunity for significant life lessons, resulting in weakened communities.