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.