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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Senate subcommittee sends amended student financial aid bill closer to senate floor

The bill passed the subcommittee in a vote of 6-3

Oscar Santiago, 18, a political science freshman, finishes spray painting a sun on a mural that reads "Save our Bright Futures" on Sunday, March 7, 2021. The mural was painted in response to Senate Bill 86, which would limit some students’ access to state funding, including the Bright Futures scholarship.
Oscar Santiago, 18, a political science freshman, finishes spray painting a sun on a mural that reads "Save our Bright Futures" on Sunday, March 7, 2021. The mural was painted in response to Senate Bill 86, which would limit some students’ access to state funding, including the Bright Futures scholarship.

Florida State Senators moved forward with a student financial aid bill Tuesday after removing most of its controversial aspects. 

The bill, SB 86, initially included a proposal to limit Bright Futures funding for students whose majors did not “lead directly to employment” and the number of college credits they earned in high school. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the bill, filed the amendment Monday after its prior version received extensive backlash. 

The Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education first adopted the amendment and then moved the bill forward with a 6-3 vote. 

The amendment adds a requirement for students to confirm they received career information from their university’s career center and are aware of future job and wage opportunities based on their major. In addition, the bill now states Bright Futures awards will be “equal to the amount specified in the General Appropriations Act,” which determines the state’s budget each year. 

The Bright Futures Scholarship Program was founded in 1997 and is funded mainly by the Florida Lottery.

This part of Baxley’s amendment removed mention of the tuition amounts students are guaranteed under Bright Futures, which concerned some senators at the meeting. The bill previously stated Florida Academic Scholars would receive an amount “necessary to pay 100 percent of tuition and fees,” while Bright Futures would cover 75% of these for Florida Medallion Scholars.

The change aims to keep future legislators from being restricted under potential circumstances like recessions or growth periods, Baxley said during the Tuesday meeting. The senator said the bill does not aim to decrease funding for the Bright Futures program. 

During the Wednesday Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education meeting, Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said zero cuts would be made to the Bright Futures Futures program while reviewing the proposed education budget for 2021-2022. 

The bill will still require the creation of an online dashboard with information about student education options and future employment opportunities. Although it will not affect students’ scholarships, the Board of Governors, the State Board of Education and the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida will still publish a list of programs that “do not lead directly to employment,” according to the bill

The bill states the list must be created by Dec. 31, 2021, if it passes. It is unclear what programs will be included on the list. 

Two amendments to Baxley’s amendment failed during the meeting. The first, proposed by Sen. Tina Polksy, D-Boca Raton, added lines specifically stating the program list cannot be used to determine student award amounts. Another amendment by Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, aimed to keep the tuition percentage amounts of 100% and 75% in the bill. 

During debate on the bill, Cruz said the amendment improved the bill, but they still aren’t moving in the right direction. She asked those in attendance if the bill was truly about workforce development and preparing future generations for employment. Cruz pointed out that proposed changes to the Bright Futures program came after a high number of students received the scholarship last year. 

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Despite the changes made, students and parents still plan to protest the bill. At UF, students will protest the bill March 26 at West University Avenue and Northwest 13th Street. The protest starts at 5 p.m. Students will be protesting the removal of the tuition cover requirements from the bill. 

Aleidys Lopez, a 19-year-old UF sustainability studies and women’s studies sophomore, said she might not have been able to attend college without Bright Futures. Coming from a single-parent household, Lopez said she had to pay for college on her own, and Bright Futures is the reason she could. The high SAT score requirement is already discriminatory toward people who cannot afford tutors, she said. 

She doesn’t mind that the bill requires students to be informed about employment possibilities; however, it seems completely different from its original version, she said. Lopez worries a restriction for the majors will still be snuck in, she said. 

“But to me, I just don’t see the purpose behind the bill at this point,” Lopez said. “And I just think that in general, the whole bill was very oppressive toward minorities.” 

Karina Bravo, a 20-year-old UF political science and international studies sophomore, said she and her friends depend on Bright Futures. The scholarship program keeps students from having to worry about future debt, which benefits all members of society, she said.

Bravo said she is glad the backlash against the bill was large enough that parts of it were reconsidered. 

“I think it just shows the power of public opinion and that your voice does matter,” she said. “These are our representatives, and they do listen to us if we are loud enough.”

Contact Juliana Ferrie at jferrie@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @juliana_f616.

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Juliana Ferrie

Juliana Ferrie is a second-year UF journalism student. She is excited to be working for The Alligator as the Santa Fe Beat reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading or listening to music.


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