Student body presidents from across Florida’s university system penned a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to keep the current textbook stipend provided by Bright Futures.
The letter, signed by student leaders at Florida’s twelve public universities, comes in response to House and Senate budget proposals slashing the roughly $37 million line item for the stipend.
Currently, Florida Academic Scholars receive $600 per year to help offset the cost of textbooks and other expenses — $300 in the fall and $300 in the spring. The Academic Scholars award is the highest tier of Bright Futures scholarships, given to students who graduate high school with a least a 3.5 GPA, a 1330 SAT or 29 ACT score and 100 hours of community service.
The university presidents say this stipend is needed for students, who worked hard to earn the scholarship.
“If this funding is reduced or eliminated, the cost will shift directly to students at a time where textbook prices only continue to rise,” the letter reads. “Your continued support of this program directly rewards students’ hard work and will reduce the need to seek financial assistance elsewhere — particularly in the form of student loans.”
But, Florida legislators see the cut as a way to push students toward lower-cost options.
Brevard Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, along with Escambia Republican Sen. Doug Broxson, said the move is part of a larger plan to lower textbook costs by nudging students into the less expensive digital textbook arena.
“We’re subsidizing textbook companies by just giving them straight dollars that goes from the student directly to the publishers for textbooks that many people know are highly overpriced,” Plasencia said Saturday during budget conference. “We believe that the best thing to do, especially the way education is moving into a more digital space, is to provide those digital textbooks at a much higher reduced price for those students.”
But, student leaders push back on the claim.
“Eliminating the Bright Futures textbook stipend will be a direct cost increase on students,” said Trevor Pope, University of Florida Student Government president, in a statement. “We hope that the legislature fully funds Bright Futures, which includes the $600 textbook stipend for the Florida Scholar awards, because textbook affordability is one of the biggest cost drivers for college students.”
Bright Futures has been a focal point this year, as state Republicans reexamined the nearly 20-year-old program with controversial legislation.
Earlier in the 2021 Legislative Session, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley championed legislation that would have dramatically overhauled the program.
Initially, the bill (SB 86) aimed to steer students toward degrees with more promising job prospects by denying or reducing Bright Futures scholarships for degree programs deemed less fruitful.
But amid strong backlash from Democrats and students, Baxley removed the provision, no longer requiring the Board of Governors and State Board of Education to create and publish a list of ineligible majors.
The bill now seeks to mandate schools place a student’s account on hold until they receive career readiness training and attest they’re aware of the financials of their career.
The measure further calls on the Board of Governors to publish data on degree fields including average salaries and student loan debt.
The bill, which awaits House consideration, additionally ropes scholarship funding to the state budget rather than the previously guaranteed 75% to 100% tuition and fee benefit.