Raphael Pires produced this update.
Raphael Pires produced this update.
Students in Florida may soon stop worrying about paying for summer college tuition without financial aid.
Governor Rick Scott proposed a $65 million plan that would reduce the costs of attending college.
On Thursday, his office announced his hopes to repeal sales taxes on textbooks and extend Florida Bright Futures scholarships to cover summer courses.
Fewer than 26,000 students at the University of Florida received Florida Bright Future benefits between 2013 and 2014. Students at UF, as well as other universities within the state, are required to complete at least 9 credits during a summer term in order to graduate.
Katie Giebler, a freshman at UF studying industrial engineering, said she would have originally been forced to pay out-of-pocket if she decided to complete this requirement at UF.
“I was planning on going back home and going to a community college, but since Bright Futures will likely be able to help me stay at UF to save money, I think a lot of other students would be encouraged to take summer sessions, pretty much every year,” she said.
Scott’s plan to get rid of sales taxes on textbooks could save students who take at least 15 credits a semester at least $60 per semester, but this plan doesn’t come without a cost.
The state would have to find other ways of coming up with just over $41 million if they decide to go through with the tax cuts. Scott has pledged more than $23 million for this change, but some are skeptical of how useful this would be.
A study by the Board of Governors says more money might be necessary to cover the full cost of these summer courses for Bright Future students at the state’s 12 universities, meaning some schools may be forced to choose who gets benefits, or choose what courses will be covered.
Scott’s office also said his final budget will be released this week with even more tax cuts. These proposals have still not been approved by Legislators, but could start seeing some results when the annual session begins in March.
“It’s good to see a move toward actually supporting education rather than cutting like Rick Scott has done in the the past,” said Giebler.
When Winford Jenkins leaves his modest Hawthorne home each morning, he prays God will lead him as he walks around the city.
Jenkins, 57, then ties a garbage bag to his black rolling walker. His mission is simple: He wants to clean up the city, focusing on litter that others have ignored.
“I don’t know which way I’ll be headed,” Jenkins said.
Sometimes, he walks down side streets and through neighborhoods. Other days, he concentrates on wooded patches along U.S. Route 301 and State Road 20.
He walks with a slight limp because of a stroke he suffered two years ago. Jenkins has been unemployed since, and started walking after a doctor suggested adding exercise to his routine. As activity increased, he began to notice trash everywhere.
It pained him to see the city in which he grew up covered in waste.
So one day last summer, he started picking up the garbage. He hasn’t stopped since.
On a cloudy Friday morning, Jenkins got in his 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, using hand signals as he turned corners because his blinkers don’t work. When he reached his destination – a quiet field behind a Chevron gas station on U.S. Route 301 – he unloaded his walker from the car and got to work.
Using a trash picker and wearing work gloves, he moved slowly throughout the weeds, grabbing cigarette packs, old receipts and fast-food cups. He filled up a trash bag in minutes.
“People will throw anything out,” he said.
Jenkins thinks most of the trash comes from locals because it’s often in places out-of-towners wouldn’t visit. He said he’s seen “almost everything” in the six months he’s been picking up trash, from used diapers to discarded police tape.
“Never seen anything dead, though,” he said, laughing.
Because it’s expensive to buy garbage bags, he reuses each thin plastic bag four or five times.
Gina Hawkins, executive director of the nonprofit organization Keep Alachua County Beautiful, said residents like Jenkins encourage her.
“To me, the appearance of the community is a reflection on the state of affairs,” she said. “When someone takes it upon himself to make a difference, it gives you hope.”
The city of Hawthorne named him one of December’s citizens of the month. Vice Mayor Tommie Howard said Hawthorne will soon begin providing trash bags so Jenkins doesn’t have to worry about buying them himself.
“We don’t have a full-fledged work crew,” Howard said. “He’s just been a real contributor to the community as a whole.”
Howard said businesses in the area are appreciative because Jenkins has made their storefronts more presentable.
As Jenkins finished his cleanup for the morning, he gestured at the block he’d covered.
“It looks so much better,” he said.
He is staunch in his faith, repeating how grateful he is to God for the opportunity to pick up trash every day.
“I’d been trying to think of something that would be useful,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m making a difference.”
Nestor Montoya produced this update.
Finding your next yoga teacher, swimming instructor or hair stylist just became a whole lot easier.
Brtr, pronounced barter, is an online platform for vendors to trade services. The platform is a Gainesville startup that launched this January.
“There are quite a few websites where you can earn your money monetizing your time, such as Uber,” said Rachel Federman, founder and CEO of brtr. “The difference between us and all those companies is here you get to monetize your skill.”
Brtr is similar to websites like Etsy, where individuals market their crafts online. But, this platform is based on services rather than products. Freedman used photography as an example.
“For a lot of budding photographers, they are in a limbo phase,” Federman said. “I would love to hire a photographer that isn’t as expensive. It gives them a chance to start working immediately and fine tune their services.”
For those still honing their skills, brtr provides a low-risk environment for others to test their services. Customers can pay with a credit card using U.S. dollars or with “brtr dollars,” which can only be used to trade services on the site, and do not equal U.S. currency.
New users receive 40 brtr dollars to use toward other vendors. This way, people can try services without spending their money. Afterward, customers can leave reviews about the service(s). Supplying new users with brtr dollars is beneficial for vendors because it gives them the opportunity to build a reputation and gain credibility before customers spend U.S. dollars.
As a college student, Ely Benhamo, director of business development for brtr, uses the platform to make money teaching private- or group-swimming lessons for $45 U.S. dollars, or 45 brtr dollars.
“It’s very hard to get a job in college and make it work with your schedule,” Benhamo said. “I don’t really have a network of families in Gainesville that I can teach swimming to, since I am from Miami. This website is a platform for me to put my service out there.”
Since brtr is a peer-to-peer marketplace that connects through Facebook, Benhamo said it, “eliminates the sketchiness of other websites because you can actually see who these people are.”
“It is all local, so it’s not like you are ordering services from another state,” she said.
While most people market services on brtr, Taryn Tacher is using it to sell custom dream catchers for $15, with all of the proceeds going toward Dance Marathon at the University of Florida.
Tacher received seven orders within the first two days of joining.
“It’s more than I expected, and it’s going well,” she said. “People aren’t that specific. They trust my artistic style, so they just give me a color or two, and I’ll just make it based off of that.”
Although Tacher is only offering her product for U.S. dollars, she said college students could benefit from brtr dollars as well.
“A lot of college kids are trying to get money, or get things done that they don’t have the money to do. Here, they can trade something that they are good at for something they need,” she said.
Signing up for brtr is free, so the site’s personal revenue is currently based on booking fees, Federman said.
Federman plans to launch brtr in Miami this February.
The website is still in its beginning stage, and there are fewer than 25 services currently on the site. Services range from lacrosse lessons to event planning.
On Jan. 10, UF researchers successfully sent plants into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
One rocket capsule, Dragon, contained plant experiments from the UF Space Plants Lab. Dragon launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and docked to the International Space Station (ISS).
“Watching a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is awesome,” said Anna-Lisa Paul, one of two principal investigators leading the UF Space Plants lab. “Especially when it is taking your experiment to the ISS.”
Paul, a plant-molecular biologist at UF, has been conducting research in plant-space biology for 20 years alongside her colleague Robert Ferl, who also serves as the co-principal investigator for the UF Space Plants Lab.
Paul and Ferl have sent experiments on seven rockets to space so far, continually testing the responses of plant life to spaceflight in terms of plant-growth rates and patterns of gene expression.
Using a Light Microscopy Module microscope, or LMM, the UF Space Plants team will be able to visualize changes to their plant experiments as the plants orbit the earth on the ISS.
Paul stressed the importance of learning how plant life responds to factors outside of the traditional evolutionary experiences.
“The more we understand about the fundamental mechanisms of how plants sense and respond to their environment, the better prepared we are to deal with adverse situations on earth,” Paul said.
Natasha Sng, a UF Space Plants researcher, started assisting with the lab in 2012. In an email interview conducted from Singapore, where she is spending the spring semester, Sng wrote that the goal of her research was to identify the functions of genes in plants that have a role in spaceflight response.
“The hope is that if we identify the function of a gene that is advantageous for the plants to flourish in space, then perhaps we could use this knowledge to increase the success rate of growing extraterrestrial plants,” Sng wrote.
Eric Schultz, another UF Space Plants researcher, explained how the most recent space-plants study focused on seeing how plants can adapt to outer space.
“We are seeing what tools they have in their tool belt to use to adapt to this environment they’ve never seen,” Schultz said.
Now that the Dragon capsule has made its successful voyage to the ISS, the experiments for the team at the UF Space Plants Lab can officially begin. Because of past successes working with NASA and SpaceX, Paul said she foresees additional space experiments in the future, including one already scheduled for launch in 2016.
The number of women who practice target shooting at gun ranges has jumped 60 percent over the past decade.
The Harry Beckwith Gun Dealer and Indoor Pistol Range carries guns that cater to a more feminine style of shooting.
One of the owners of Harry Beckwith started the War on Women club after seeing an increase in female clientele.
The club meets once a month and teaches women tips about shooting and self defense.
The Ocala Breeders Sales Co. hosted the 26th annual Day of Champions Tuesday, which includes two wager matches allowing fans to bet on horses at the track and then watch the races live. These are the only races of this kind held throughout the year. The races attract local enthusiasts like Stan Officina – a 40-year veteran in the horse industry.