Sen. Dennis Baxley is scrapping large portions of his controversial proposal to push students toward “meaningful careers.”
Baxley on Monday filed an amendment rewriting his proposal (SB 86) to tweak the state’s financial aid programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Included among the scrapped plans is a provision to reduce Bright Futures and Benacquisto Scholarship awards for students seeking degrees or certificates flagged as those that lead to fewer job opportunities.
The Ocala Republican’s strike-all amendment removes several parts of the bill that drew outcry from opposition, including students.
“We have awakened a giant,” Baxley wrote in a letter to colleagues. “We have to reconnect the education and economic model and we have begun that process.”
To replace the headlining proposal, Baxley’s amendment would put a hold on freshmen’s registrations during the year. To get that hold lifted, students would have to get career readiness training and to affirm that they learned about the financials of their career.
Democrats, including Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz, highlighted the changes. But Cruz tweeted that their work isn’t done yet.
“I am glad to see that public opposition was enough to stop this awful legislation for now, but we must remain vigilant to ensure this language doesn’t show up hidden in the back of the budget,” she said.
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to hear the bill during meetings this week on Tuesday and Wednesday. At the bill’s prior hearing, 70 speakers testified on the bill. Only one spoke in favor of it.
“I believe we should encourage all students to pursue their passions, but the fact remains that higher education comes at a significant cost to both students and taxpayers and there needs to be at least some element of career planning involved,” Baxley wrote.
The amendment would also remove the plan to reduce Bright Futures credits based on the number of acceleration credits obtained.
The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday voted 5-4, along party lines to advance the proposal after postponing it the week before. That panel staked its changes to the bill after criticism from students and supporters, and Republicans acknowledged it still needed work.
Baxley gave the sticking quote of the meeting.
“If all you do is TikTok and Facebook, you can’t work in a modern office today,” he said.
“I think Bright Futures is something that Florida families have relied upon,” he said. “It’s something that I support. I fully funded it in my budget, and we hope the Legislature follows suit on that as well.”
Baxley contends the proposal was not a cost-saving measure. However, a committee staff analysis notes spending would decrease if the bill takes effect as written before the latest amendment.
The proposed legislation has undergone several hiccups. The bill was supposed to be heard in the Education Committee two weeks ago, but that meeting was delayed a week after senators received strong public opposition.
Baxley told reporters that he hit the brakes to consider input in the hopes of satisfying students and those affected.
The Senator’s letter sent Monday shares a similar tone.
Currently, there is no House companion measure to Baxley’s bill.