Florida lawmakers expected to overhaul controversial Bright Futures proposal

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, says info led him to ‘hit the brakes’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Under pressure that has included a student-led opposition campaign, lawmakers are expected to overhaul a controversial Senate proposal that would tie Bright Futures scholarships to a list of job-creating degrees.

The measure (SB 86) was tabled last week before it was set to be considered by the Senate Education Committee. Sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, told reporters at the time that he was receiving “a lot of different inputs” on the proposal, which he said left him wanting to “hit the brakes.”

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Under the bill as it was filed initially, state college and university students would not be eligible for Bright Futures scholarships if they enrolled in degree programs not on lists of “approved” programs. Students who had not chosen degree programs would be eligible to have 60 hours of coursework covered by the popular scholarship program.

But the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday is expected to consider an amendment that  would make significant changes to the bill. Under the amendment filed by Baxley, Bright Futures scholarships would be “reduced,” not nixed, for students who don’t choose an academic discipline deemed promising for job prospects.

Baxley sent a letter to members of the committee Monday outlining some of the changes.

“Rather than creating a list of degrees that lead to jobs, the bill creates a list of degrees that DO NOT lead to jobs. Students who select a degree or program of study that the BOG has determined will not lead to a job will receive a reduced (not eliminated) scholarship amount,” Baxley wrote, referring to the state university system’s Board of Governors.

The amended plan would require the Board of Governors, the State Board of Education and the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida to maintain such lists. The change tying Bright Futures eligibility to the lists would go into effect during the 2023-2024 academic year, which is one year later than the original plan proposed. It would also apply to the state’s Benacquisto Scholarship program, which is for National Merit scholars.

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