Changes to Bright Futures scholarship bill clears Florida Senate education committee

In an apparent victory for opponents, the Senate this week could drastically overhaul a controversial proposal aimed at reducing state Bright Futures scholarships for students in degree programs deemed unlikely to lead to jobs.

State Sen. Dennis Baxley, of Ocala, made his case Tuesday morning for his bill that would overhaul the Florida Bright Futures Program.

“If you’re graduating from college and you’re unhireable, that’s not a very bright future,” said Baxley.

After backlash from students and parents from the initial bill filled, Baxley compromised, proposing amendments to the bill. The changes include:

  • Instead of creating a list of degree programs that lead to direct employment, the Board of Governors would create a list of degree programs that do not lead to direct employment. That list would be reviewed yearly.
  • Students studying programs on the list receive reduced funding. Students who qualify, who are studying majors not on the list, may receive the full funding from Bright Futures.
  • The amendment would not reduce Bright Futures aid for students who earn college credit in high school through programs including advanced placement, dual enrollment and Cambridge.

“That’s a good step. I’d just like to see it backpedal a little further. I’d like it to be left alone. There’s already been changes raising requirements to get Bright Futures,” said Jocelyn Meyer, a senior at Rockledge High School.

Soon after the original bill was proposed, Meyer created an online petition that now has more than 126,000 signatures.

“When it’s a public state-lottery funded program, equal opportunity scholarship ... absolutely not. Your hard work should determine that,” said Meyer.

Meyer is on her way to the University of Central Florida in the fall, majoring in international global studies. She fits all the current requirements for a full-ride Bright Futures Scholarship. She’s still stressed about paying for costs outside of tuition.

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“I spend a lot of my time, in a year that’s already exhausting, doing additional essays for school and scholarships. I’ll be doing Army/ROTC to pay for any extra costs. And to help pay for future degrees,” said Meyer.

For the 2019-2020 school year, 111,973 students received financial aid through Bright Futures totaling about $618 million. Baxley said some of those students aren’t using that funding for viable career paths.

“Right now, we have a number [of students] that are being identified as unhireable at that juncture, and that’s why we’ve been so ambitious to try to bring these two worlds --the economy and the education model --closer together,” said Baxley.

Several students and teachers testified against the bill during Tuesday’s meeting.

As part of the bill, there will be an online dashboard created with information on employment opportunities and average salaries based on specific degrees earned.

The amended bill was passed by members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education with six voting for it, and three against. The bill will move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee for review.

If the bill passes, it will go into effect July 1. Students already in college on Bright Futures will not be affected, and will continue to receive their approved funding until they graduate college.

About the Author:

Crystal Moyer is a morning news anchor who joined the News 6 team in 2020.