Following backlash, Bright Futures bill advances after major changes

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — “This is a very popular bill,” joked Senator Dennis Baxley (R – Marion County) as he introduced his amended bill to change the way the state administers the Bright Futures scholarships.

The bill, which passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on Tuesday, was changed following criticism from students and parents, to remove some of the more controversial aspects.

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Under the revised bill (SB 86) the state would create an online dashboard with career path and employment information outcomes, requiring that each scholarship recipient visit the dashboard after their first year.  The bill would also have the state produce a list of degree programs that it deems “do not directly lead to employment.”

Removed from the bill is the provision that limited scholarships to only 60 credit-hours for students who chose to pursue degrees in fields that the state decided were not marketable.

Left in the bill is a funding provision that reveres a course set by the legislature in 2018 when it last expanded Bright Futures. Under the change, Bright Futures aid, which is currently either 75% or 100% of tuition and fees, would now be set to a level appropriated by lawmakers each year as part of the state budget.

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“How can we expect children to make lifelong decisions based on this funding when we’re failing to guarantee it during their course of their time in college,” asked Senator Janet Cruz (D - Hillsborough County).  “Does this set us up so that a student can receive 100% in a good budget year based on the GAA but only 50% in the next year?”

Baxley, who has called Bright Futures an “entitlement program” said while he expects future legislatures to continue to fully fund Bright Futures, he could not speculate as to the realities that future legislatures may have to deal with.