Dennis Baxley’s controversial Bright Futures bill back on agenda after being delayed
Dennis Baxley. Image via Colin Hackley.

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The bill would cut scholarships for Bright Future recipients who enroll in degree programs that don’t “lead directly to employment."

A bill that would change eligibility for Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship based on major is back on schedule in the Legislature after being temporarily postponed in response to public push-back. 

The proposal (SB 86) is slated to be heard in its first committee meeting — the Senate Education Committee — this upcoming Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, would cut scholarships for Bright Future recipients who enroll in degree programs that don’t “lead directly to employment.”

“As taxpayers we should all be concerned about subsidizing degrees that just lead to debt, instead of the jobs our students want and need,” Baxley said in a news release on the legislation. “We encourage all students to pursue their passions, but when it comes to taxpayer subsidized education, there needs to be a link to our economy, and that is the goal of this legislation.”

The legislation would require the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to approve a list of certificate and degree programs “which lead directly to employment”  by the end of this year. And, students who have not chosen a degree program would be eligible to have 60 hours of coursework covered by the scholarship.

Concerns have also arose from the bill’s proposal to change the current system of providing aid in a tiered structure, at either 100% or 75% of tuition and fees. Instead, the bill would tie the amount of students’ Bright Futures scholarships to the amount appropriated in the state budget.

The bill, which would also reduce funding for Bright Futures scholars who completed college coursework in high school, was tabled from its first scheduled committee hearing earlier this week after receiving strong public opposition

A student-led group called Save Bright Futures created a Change.org petition that is nearing 100,000 signatures. A Facebook group named Florida Voters Against Scholarship Cuts has also popped up in opposition of the bill, and it currently has about 1,500 members.

The Tuesday committee hearing will likely be dominated by public comment from opponents of the legislation.

Senate President Wilton Simpson has come out in support of the legislation upon its original filing in late February.

“All too often the debate surrounding higher education focuses on the cost to the student, in terms of tuition and fees, but never the cost to the taxpayer or the actual value to the student,” Simpson said in a news release. “The reality is a degree does not guarantee a job. This legislation rebalances state financial aid programs to cover the cost of tuition and fees for general education requirements and then for targeted programs that we know will lead to jobs in our communities.”

If approved in the Senate Education Committee, the bill will need to go before two more committees before it can be heard on the Senate floor. If passed, it would become effective July 1.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]


31 comments

  • Suzanne Citere

    March 13, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    This is HANDS DOWN one of the WORST pieces of legislation that has ever come through the Florida state legislature. Who is THIS guy to determine what majors “deserve” a Bright Futures scholarship? and HE majored in PHILOSOPHY. I have never seen so many people so angry regardless of political party.

    • Marissa Hecker

      March 17, 2021 at 8:02 am

      Queen Suz has spoken!!!!

      • Suzanne Citere

        March 17, 2021 at 9:02 am

        I’m embarrassed for these Senators. Especially this Baxley. Obviously they’re up to something. Like shifting the funds to pay for school vouchers. SHADY.

  • Janice Mobilia

    March 13, 2021 at 8:42 pm

    This bill needs to be stopped. This will chase the hardest working, brightest students to go out of state which will hurt the FL economy. I personally know 3 2020 HS grads that turned down full scholarships to out of state schools to attend UF and FSU. They would not have been able to do that without Bright Futures. These students will pay apartments rent, spend on food, entertainment, etc, all benefiting the FL economy. Once they graduate they will more than likely get a job in FL.
    Also any changes need to be planned out and families must be given enough notice to plan financially for changes. Students start working on the requirement to earn BF in their freshman year of HS. Not grandfathering current college and HS students in will negatively impact the students working so hard to get into the best colleges and planning to fund their higher education. Stop the bill!

  • Lucy

    March 13, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    Why would you betray your constituents like this? This bill is trash! You are seriously making me reconsider supporting Republicans in the future. Remember these students will eventually vote and you are setting a vary bad track record! Do not hurt Florida students like this!

  • Nancy Moses

    March 13, 2021 at 8:47 pm

    SB 86 is bad for Florida.
    Bright Futures is good for Florida.

    We must continue to demonstrate that Florida values hard work and learning, as well as keeping commitments made to our young citizens.

    There is no benefit to SB 86. Those who vote in favor of this bill will be known for their shortsightedness, which will be remembered by voters.

    SB 86 must be stopped.

  • Barbara Bunch

    March 13, 2021 at 8:47 pm

    This bill is so demoralizing to the high achieving students that have, and are currently working to EARN Bright Futures scholarships! Senator @dennisbaxley is certainly NOT representing the many teens who are the “affected folks” he noted in his comments when questioned about his bill. These students are, and will soon be voting constituents in our state, and I hope will definitely remember who represented their interests when voting in the next election cycle and who advocated to change the rules that guided their path to achieve goals related to pursuing education after high school.

  • Daryl Penniman

    March 13, 2021 at 9:11 pm

    I firmly request no reduction in Bright Futures benefits to children who have earned every penny of what’s been promised to them, what they have been actively earning through high school.  I am the parent of a graduating senior, a middle school parent and their challenges are more significant than ever.   All sorts of careers feed the economy to make up the whole.  When I voted for Florida Lottery approval, it was to fund education and not select careers.   Please find ways to increase educational benefits and not reduce what is currently in place.  

  • Michelle Packard

    March 13, 2021 at 9:34 pm

    Please reconsider this bill. It will have a negative impact on Florida students currently fulfilling the requirements or recently earned this scholarship. This bill affects our family directly.
    My youngest son is a Bright Futures recipient and a Junior at UCF. He has worked very hard to earn this scholarship and to maintain it. When he graduates with his degree he plans to go on to grad school so he can have the credentials he needs to find a job in his field of study. Will you decide that his major no longer qualifies because he is going to grad school instead of instantly into the job market. after all of the hard work he is put in achieving and maintaining this scholarship money? During a time when families have been economically impacted by a global pandemic, taking away hard earned scholarship assistance with no advance warning so families and students can figure out how they can afford to complete their education is just wrong.

  • Jody

    March 13, 2021 at 10:03 pm

    Please vote no on SB86. No to reduction in payment, no to specified majors only, no to subtracting earned advanced credits from the 120 hours awarded and no to BF being the last payer of earned awards. This bill will not achieve it’s stated intention, but instead will drive our high performers out of state.

  • Laura

    March 13, 2021 at 10:16 pm

    There is no wrong or right major as everyone is beautiful and unique and finds who they are during FOUR (maybe even FIVE) years of college; definitely not TWO. The fact that you want to take away credits from students that have worked so hard to set themselves up for success is disgusting. Shame on you!

    I can’t speak for anyone but our family and our daughter so let me tell you our/her story:

    Sarah, a beautiful soul inside and out. It was about two weeks before her junior year of high school that she came to us and said she had decided to drop out of the Cambridge Program and wanted to enroll full time at Santa Fe College in hopes to earn her AA degree at the same time as her high school diploma. With a ton of hard work and taking summer classes between her junior and senior year of high school she made that goal a reality. You see Sarah is a goal digger. She has little sticky notes with goals all over her house. One million dollars in the bank by age 27, close all three rings on her apple watch 5 out of 7 days a week, maintain a 3.5 GPA throughout UF while earning her combined Masters degree, graduate with no loans, and so many more. Goals and vision…that’s how one gets to places in life, not by people cutting her throat. So shame on you for trying to cut her goals short.

    The fact is she wouldn’t be able to meet many of these goals if you all decide to take away 60 of the credits she’s worked so hard for. If you vote to amend Bright Futures her life will dramatically change and not for the better. Because she worked her tail off in high school she was able to enter UF as a freshman with a fresh 120 credits available to her. She knew this would allow her so many amazing opportunities; take only 12 credits a semester so she can focus on being super involved within the college (we will get to that in a bit), obtain multiple internships, study abroad, obtain three minors and earn a combined Masters degree in International Business. This plan takes 4 years and allows her to grow and mature and THIS RIGHT HERE is how you get a job out of college; not by cutting out 60 credits for kids that work hard and force them out the door with a degree at 20 years old with absolutely no experience because there were not enough credits or semesters to have time to obtain the experience. In case you forgot an 18-19 year old obtaining an internship between their freshman and sophomore years is nearly impossible (not enough experience under their belts), but if they come in at 18-19 years old as a junior they are expected to get an internship because this would be the only summer that could happen. The following summer they will have graduated and are expected by you all to have a full time job. Insane! You are setting them up for failure! Even at our daughter’s convocation at UF they hammered home the idea of enjoying the college experience and getting super involved; none of which is even feasible if you take away their Bright Futures and force them to graduate early (or pay for credits which is simply not fair). She is doing exactly what everyone at UF has told her to do; even during a pandemic. Sarah has found her home within the College of Business and is either currently involved with or was involved in the following over the last two years: Warrington Welcome, Leadership Development Program, Business Undergraduate Mentorship Program, Heavener Leadership Challenge, Career and Peer Mentors and Community Outreach Coordinator for Project Makeover. She also had a virtual internship last summer and holds two jobs. One with WHOA GNV Podcast and she is a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the Career Success Class within the College of Business. Like Senator Baxley she is working while going to college to help keep herself debt free. I should also mention in the midst of the lockdown last spring when masks were nearly impossible to find she took it upon herself to start sewing them. She made over 1500 masks for free. Some people donated to help her cover the cost of fabric, thread, etc. but she took it upon herself to donate back and so she donated $1 for every mask made to the Alachua County Education Foundation to help feed homeless children in our county. This is what it’s all about, giving…not taking. Maybe you should take a play from her playbook and reconsider what you are doing to the lives of those that have worked so hard for this scholarship.

    Shame on you for even considering taking away all of these opportunities from my daughter and God only knows how many other amazing students throughout this state. The fact that you want to offer out of state students in state tuition while taking away money from our own is just mind blowing and something that you all really need to reconsider. Shame on you!

    I really hope this bill gets torn up and thrown away and you all spend your time on something much more important during a pandemic.

  • Nancy Kinnally

    March 13, 2021 at 10:40 pm

    This is the dumbest, most counterproductive legislation I have ever seen promoted by Dennis Baxley, and that’s saying a lot. For one thing, it’s impossible to say what degree programs lead directly to employment. Some, such as biology or political science, are foundational for advanced degrees such as medicine or law. My English degree has served me well for more than 25 years working in journalism and public relations. (Maybe I should have explained that to Sen. Baxley back when I was communications director for the FSU College of Medicine and gave him a tour.)

    Besides, a liberal arts education makes students better problem-solvers and critical thinkers, who can apply their broad knowledge to a wide range of career pursuits. And what of the disincentive this legislation would create regarding AP and dual enrollment courses? We want students to challenge themselves more, not less. Penalizing them financially for doing so would only discourage them from trying to get a jumpstart on their college studies. I guess what this comes down to is that Dennis Baxley doesn’t think studying psychology helps him in the funeral business. If you believe that, I have a $10,000 coffin I would like to sell you.

  • Lisa Willman

    March 13, 2021 at 10:42 pm

    This bill would adversely effect students at a time when they have already suffered enough. Our students have worked hard to meet the criteria for Bright Futures Scholarship and SB 86 is threatening to take it all away.
    There are several unfavorable provisions in this Bill:
    • Funding reduced for credits earned in high school – regardless of whether it applies to your major
    • Scholarship availability tied to whatever the legislature allocates each year. How can students plan for financing their tuition each year if their award amount changes? Moreover why would students work so hard for so little. Lastly, the BF is funded by the Lottery, not taxpayers money.
    • Scholarship availability on a “first come first serve” basis.
    • Eligibility tied to major selection. American freedom is attack in this portion of the bill!
    Our legislators need to remember that college students are voting members of our community and it is your duty to protect their interests. Please vote NO on SB 86.

  • Amy Roberts

    March 13, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    SB 86 is bad for Florida students. Bright Futures is important for Florida.

    We must continue to demonstrate that Florida values hard work and learning, as well as keeping commitments made to our young citizens.

    There is no benefit to SB 86. Those who vote in favor of this bill will be known for their shortsightedness, which will be remembered by voters. No student should be penalized for hard work nor penalized for pursuing any degree. This is funded from lottery money. To rescind it would be going against the approval given for FL lottery in the first place. These are NOT tax dollars at stake people. It’s our future leaders that are on the line.

    SB 86 must be stopped.

  • Pam Dirschka

    March 13, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    86 SB86

  • Jodi Relis

    March 14, 2021 at 3:09 am

    This bill needs to be STOPPED!!! People will be forced to drop out of college if this should pass!! We want more kids in the Florida University system – not less. Why should kids who have worked so hard through HS and into college that have earned their Bright Futures Scholarships have them taken away because politicians decided their majors are not worthy?? If these politicians pass this bill and make changes to Bright Futures it will surely be reflected in the next election when they are VOTED OUT!! We need politicians that care more about our children’s education!

  • Lisa

    March 14, 2021 at 10:38 am

    If you voted for Republicans, you did this to yourself.

  • Michelle rhein

    March 14, 2021 at 10:53 am

    Keep your hands off the lottery money! That money was set up for hight achieving kids to get scholarships to college! This is not tax payer dollars! You should not get to decide what major these kids decide to go into. All degrees are good degrees and lead to jobs! Don’t penalize kids that choose to get college credits in high school, it’s a terrible idea to take money away from the ones who choose higher learning! Shame on any politician that want to make any changes to bright futures. This is bad for Florida families and we will not forget this at re-election time

  • K Holloway

    March 14, 2021 at 11:13 am

    This bill is bad government. Plain and simple.
    You are telling the youth of Florida (who I might add are becoming more and more politically motivated than students I have seen in the last 20 years) the following….
    1. The legislature of Florida instead of actually listening to them, is making political decisions based on pandering to a base that will no longer be voting for them in the next 20 to 30 years. whereas, this group of constituents will be voting for the next 60 years.
    2. proving once again how hypocritical many of the legislators are. I would be curious to know how many legislators would no longer be eligible for bright futures based on their chosen major. making students go through an interview process and explaining how they plan on using their degree? I’d actually be okay with that. making them come up with a written plan of what they’re going to do with their degree and how, I’d be okay with that too. But simply telling them that because they don’t pick a degree that in your eyes is somehow less worthy than others, that’s not okay.
    3. this is another assault on the education community. because, how many of your teachers have degrees that are necessary to teach what they teach, that would not be acceptable to bright futures?
    4. The only other reason I can think of that bad governance like this would be introduced would be some insane idea that if you push the students of Florida out of the state university system, then that would leave additional spots open for out of state students, which pay a much larger tuition. So not only would you be paying less money for the scholarship program, but then the universities would also be getting a larger influx of tuition money from out of state students……..
    5. maybe instead of attacking bright futures, you actually look at the cost of college. I guarantee there are many constituents who are looking at this going We have too many kids caught graduating from college with mountain loads of debt. why can’t they just work to pay for their college? And then my next favorite phrase “when I was their age…” And the people in this state have no clue unless they have somebody who is in college in the last five or six years have any idea how much costs have significantly gone up for college. I graduated with my BS in 99, My husband just earned his BSN in 2020, and has been in the community college system for over 20 years slowly working to obtaining his degree. The difference in what he has paid per credit hour from the mid to late ’90s till last year, is astronomical. So many of the older people in the state have no clue how many hours at a minimum wage, or even slightly above minimum wage job is needed to pay for one year of college.
    6. maybe the other thing you need to look at is where the rest of your funding is going in the first place. maybe there’s a reason why kids who have liberal arts degrees can’t find a job. because this state is lacking in funding for those positions that use those degrees. educators, are leaving this state under the current conditions, the arts in the state are woefully underfunded.
    And let me also point out that many of the degrees these students will be earning, they will be leaving Florida to go find work. because Florida has not done the best job of attracting those types of companies into this state. So if you don’t drive them out of the state for college because you’re not helping them stay here for college, then you are going to drive them out of state after they graduate to find the best and brightest paying jobs.

  • Edward Freeman

    March 14, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    We should all thank Sen Baxley and the rest of the Republicans for letting us all know that what many of us have long suspected, but never imagined they would confirm for us is all true. I have long thought that the only thing Republicans really care about at the end of the day is money and more specifically how to concentrate money in their own pockets and the pockets of their favored rich folk. This bill goes a long way toward that end by essentially telling children and young adults that knowledge is only useful if you can make some money off of it. Otherwise, there is no need for it and the state won’t assist you in learning such knowledge. We heard a similarly shocking admission from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson this weekend. He said that the attempted coup at the Capitol on January 6th was fine because the people trying to overthrow our government was white and conservative, so by definition were patriotic, law-abiding and law enforcement supporting. Johnson continued that BLM and Antifa are horrible, dangerous people for demonstrating against murder despite those demonstrations not trying to overthrow the government, remaining mostly peaceful, and not murdering any law enforcement. We really should thank these Republicans for finally saying the quiet parts out loud foir us all to hear.

  • Karen olenick

    March 14, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    Please oppose SB 86. If this bill advances, not only will our 112,000+ Bright Futures recipients face threats to their scholarships, but so will Benacquisto Scholars.

    Bright Futures and the Benacquisto benefit the state by a) incentivizing exceptionally high performing resident students to remain here and b) attracting talented students from across the nation into Florida schools.

    Florida’s university system has been improving in national rankings over the past few years. One component of continuing on this upward trajectory is retaining and attracting highly competitive students. Lose Benacquisto, lose the National Merit Scholars. Decimate Bright Futures , and disincentivize Florida’s best and brightest students to continue to choose Florida universities.

    I ask that you reject this bill, and prevent these threats to the State University System of Florida and protect its current and future students.

  • Angelika Eisenstark

    March 14, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    How do you even consider pulling the rug right out from under these students?!? Many make their decisions to stay in Florida and attend a Florida school because of the Bright Futures scholarships they earned!!! EARNED, yes there are requirements that needed to be met to receive BF, and they begin freshman year in highschool. I know quite a few students that turned down out of state schools, as staying in state with bright futures helped keep them out of or with little debt. Isn’t that what you are hoping to achieve? Or is that just the lie you are telling to misappropriate lottery funds that are supposed to be for bright futures and use it on other things. And what gives you the authority to decide which degrees are worthy. What may in your eyes be a worthy degree now could change in a few years. I really hope you hear the thousand of voters asking you to not let this continue. Let me assure you these students, and parents will remember when voting comes around.

  • Kathleen Schiffer

    March 15, 2021 at 12:20 am

    We Voted the Florida lottery into place in the early 1980s specifically to fund higher education. The lottery was to be solely used for education. The lottery is an Education Fund. Bazely is trying to embezzle lottery funds and misappropriate the funds already voted in place for unspecified higher education- he should thus be put in jail for stealing from the people. It’s not uncommon for crooked public officials to be arrested. If the lottery is not going to be used as originally marketed it will need to be disbanded. However I feel it should be retained and used solely for education as originally voted for by We the people. The lottery and it’s funding of education have been extremely successful and should not be changed. It will continue to be successful if you can keep Bazely and other criminals hands out of the pot. Do not dare touch or change our children’s education fund. Thank you.

  • Lisa West

    March 15, 2021 at 8:54 pm

    This bill needs to be stopped. As a parent of a sophomore with plans to attend an in-state college she now has to reconsider her classes for her junior and senior year because you want to dictate what career path she should follow. I am also a middle school teacher of inner city students who will only be able to attend college based on the availability of BF. This bill does our youth a huge disservice and you should be ashamed of yourself for hindering their desire to pursue higher level education.

  • BobbiBrennan

    March 15, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    To strip kids of a possible scholarship after they worked so hard for it, is inexcusable. I can tell you, Republicans and Democrats will be sure to vote you out of office if you move forward with this. This bill is not popular with either party.

  • Jennifer L

    March 16, 2021 at 10:25 am

    Cutting Benacquisto funds for out of state students is a grave mistake and will be shooting your flagship school in the foot. Ever since the scholarship was offered to out of state students, UF has seen a significant jump in their national rankings, which in turn attracts other high ranking students from all over the country. At this point in the college admissions cycle, the deadline for applying to additional schools with full ride scholarships has passed, leaving them in a bind for the next 4 years if the funding for this is cut. Please remember these high performing kids and what they bring to your state!

  • Tricia Settecase

    March 16, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    I do not support this bill. Allow the recipients of Bright Futures scholarships to choose and pursue their dreams.

  • Brandi DeBolt

    March 17, 2021 at 10:23 am

    I am appalled that our politicians would do this to our current high schoolers without a warning. My sophomore daughter has worked hard in her AP classes and is signed up for dual enrollment next year. Now, she will be punished for taking the classes she’s been encouraged to take, by the college, the high school admin and to guarantee Bright futures.

    This bill does not help Floridian families. I am embarrassed to call myself a Republican today.

  • Shalyn Barker

    March 17, 2021 at 5:27 pm

    Like Senator Baxley, I too was born in Ocala and lived in the area most of my life. I have firsthand experienced the echo chamber that feeds Senator Baxley’s ego.

    Upon my high school graduation, I should have studied Dance in college, but the place I came from didn’t find that viable (as you can see from Senator Baxley’s mindset). Instead I was made to feel I didn’t need a dance degree to dance and I received a BA in English (for lack of knowing what to study). I still danced my way through college on collegiate teams and stayed very active in my passion.

    And wouldn’t you know my first job offer after college was to be the dance teacher at a Public Magnet School in Ocala! However, I couldn’t accept the job because I didn’t have the proper degree at the time to teach dance. Then MCSB offered me a position as an English teacher, which I was miserable in and resigned in a few weeks. I ended up owning my own successful dance school and have been a member of the dance educators community for 20 years. What great irony that if I had just followed my passions, it would have led me to a successful career right out of college.

    My husband and I both come from lower working class families. We both used our Bright Futures Scholarships and graduated debt free without strain on our families. My husband was even able to use his scholarship after his service in the military while we were married. As a young couple with a child, we would not have been able to do this financially without his earned scholarship.

    I also ask this question – since you are insisting these degree tracks will lead to employment… What if it doesn’t? If my daughter studies something you mandate and she doesn’t get a job… Can she hold the state of FL or Senator Baxley responsible? Seems to me you are making a demand with a promise you can’t really keep for everyone that graduates.

  • Larry Maxwell

    March 23, 2021 at 10:25 pm

    The Florida legislature consistently underspend son education.
    Records show Florida’s spending per pupil is regularly about $3,500 below the national average. In 2017. students were getting less per pupil than in 2012.
    Students were funded at over $10,000 per pupil in 2017, but the legislature under spent by $1346. $1346 at 2.6 million students is $3.5 BILLION for students these legislators spent elsewhere.

  • Dr Ken Ecker

    March 27, 2021 at 10:20 am

    This is horrible for Florida students. Leave Bright Futures alone!!!! Baxley is also the guy who is putting through legislation allowing students with grandparents in Florida to only pay in state tuition. What other state allows this. Interesting Baxley has about 8 or more grandchildren. Someone should bring this out. Baxley is only after his own agenda – typical lately of politicians. His BA in Philosophy and sociology allowed him to open his funeral business. Last time I checked you don’t need a 4 year degree. As a republican I am ashamed of this nonsense. Its HIS agenda not the people he represents -There are kids who get a history degree then go on to be top physicians in the their field. Florida kids already don’t get the same level of education as the Northeast but now you want to punish them again. Disgraceful. Leave Bright Futures alone- paid for by the lottery not even tax payer dollars. Enough is enough.

Comments are closed.


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