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Rewrite of Bright Future Scholarship bill removes most controversial additions following public outcry

Bright futures bill update
Bright futures bill update
Updated: Mar. 22, 2021 at 1:32 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) - Bowing to pressure from parents, students and other legislators, the author of a bill that would fundamentally change Florida’s popular Bright Futures Scholarship Program has removed the most controversial sections of the legislation.

In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that after getting feedback, he has rewritten Senate Bill 86 to remove the most controversial elements, that, among other things, would have reduced funding to students who major in programs deemed not conducive to immediate employment.

“Based on your feedback, and with that goal in mind, I have filed an amendment that represents a concrete step forward in this discussion, while at the same time preserving the merit-based financial aid benefits our students earned in high school, regardless of which undergraduate path the student chooses,” Baxley wrote.

Baxley told ABC 7 Monday afternoon that he’s pleased at the tremendous interest the bill has generated. “I’m very excited any time we can raise awareness and opportunities for prosperity both in growing as a person and growing as a career,” he said. “That’s my objective. No one in this arena is not talking about jobs right now.”

The rewrite of the bill, called a “strike-all’ amendment, would delete:

  • The reduction of a Bright Futures or Benacquisto Scholarship award amount tied to student enrollment in a certificate or degree program on a list created by the state Board of Governors, State Board of Education or Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.
  • The reduction in the total number of credits in a Bright Futures award by the number of acceleration credits applied.
  • The provision relating to graduate study for Bright Futures award recipients tied to the certificate and degree list, which simply retains current law relating to graduate study.

While the bill will now not penalize a student for selecting a major on this list, a student with such a major would be required to sign a statement acknowledging they have received career information, as well as future employment and wage prospects related to their major.

The strike-all amendment preserves the requirement for the state’s Board of Governors to produce a yearly, comprehensive report with data, by academic discipline, of post-graduation median salary 1, 5, and 10 years after graduation; median student loan debt; debt-to-income ratio; an estimated monthly loan payment as a percentage of gross monthly income; and the percentage of graduates who have continued their education beyond the baccalaureate level.

Students would be required to register with their college or university career center, and complete a career readiness training module. Failure to that would require the school to place a hold on the student’s registration after their freshman year until the requirements are met.

The former version of the bill would have also decreased support for students who have already earned college credits in high school through dual enrollment programs or advanced placement classes. That provision is also gone.

“We have awakened a giant. We have to reconnect the education and economic model and we have begun that process,” Baxley wrote.

Senate Bill 86 will go before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Wednesday afternoon, starting at 4:30 p.m. You can track the bill here.

You can read the following letter from Baxley below:

Senators,

Over the last few weeks, I have appreciated the opportunity to discuss the status of Florida’s need and merit-based student financial aid programs with you, constituents and families across the state, and other stakeholders within Florida’s #1 ranked higher education system.

The common thread of these discussions has been the shared desire for all of our students to succeed in meaningful careers that provide for their families and serve our communities. 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.

My goal in filing Senate Bill 86 was to begin the discussion about both the cost and the value of the degrees and programs within our higher education system. Based on your feedback, and with that goal in mind, I have filed an amendment that represents a concrete step forward in this discussion, while at the same time preserving the merit-based financial aid benefits our students earned in high school, regardless of which undergraduate path the student chooses.

A brief summary of the strike-all amendment I filed today is below:

The strike all amendment removes from the bill:

* The reduction of a Bright Futures or Benacquisto Scholarship award amount tied to student enrollment in a certificate or degree program on a list created by the BOG, SBE, or ICUF.

* The reduction in the total number of credits in a Bright Futures award by the number of acceleration credits applied.

* The provision relating to graduate study for Bright Futures award recipients tied to the certificate and degree list, which simply retains current law relating to graduate study.

The strike-all amendment adds:

* A requirement that, as a part of the state university procedures to release a hold on the student’s registration after the first year, that the student affirmatively indicate that he or she has received required career information and indicates awareness of future employment and wage prospects based on his or her declared major.

The strike-all amendment retains the following provisions from the bill:

* Creation of an online dashboard for university graduate employment and education outcomes, and a requirement that a hold be placed on each student’s registration after the first year until the student has met specific conditions.

* Requirement for the BOG, SBE, and ICUF to establish lists of certificate and degree programs that do not directly lead to employment.

* Modification of Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars (FAS) and the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) awards, which:

* Adds additional alternative eligibility options relating to earning an associate degree through dual enrollment or an AP Capstone Diploma. o Changes the FAS and FMS award to as specified in the GAA.  Modification of the Benacquisto Scholarship Program to limit initial eligibility for non-resident students to the 2021-2022 academic year, and award as specified in the GAA.

* Clarification that fee exemptions related to student in DCF care apply to students aged 18 and under.

We have awakened a giant. We have to reconnect the education and economic model and we have begun that process.

I would appreciate your favorable support of these changes and look forward to discussing the bill and amendment with you further, at tomorrow’s meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

You can view the most recent version of the bill below:

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