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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Expanding Bright Futures to make Florida’s future brighter

Opinions generic
Opinions generic

The current problem

The Bright Futures program is one of the best programs in Florida. It is something I have been fortunate to receive alongside 23,000 other UF students and about 5% of students at public colleges, like Santa Fe College. 

When I’ve previously written about this subject, raising concerns in the Tampa Bay Times and Florida Political Review, I emphasized college should be an open experience to learn and grow.

A flaw of Bright Futures is the inequality of access, as noted by the Orlando Sentinel in 2022. It noted how in its investigation, “benefits go disproportionately to students from more affluent areas and mostly bypass students living in poorer neighborhoods.” 

Predominantly lower-income students’ families pay into this. In its analysis, the Orlando Sentinel quotes a University of North Florida professor describing the program as a “reverse Robin Hood effect.” 

I am someone who has been advocating for Bright Futures access since my freshman year and is now on his way out. My takeaway for those who take the torch is that awareness is an important first step to combatting this trend. Reconsideration of what has worked is also paramount to promoting equality of access.

Students wait to see if UF President Ben Sasse’s twisted machinations for our economic model come to fruition. Fortunately, it seems he has not made moves but the Florida Legislature can move quickly when it is feeling dystopian.

HB 895 working to expand access

A bill by Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee, could help re-adjust this. HB 895 seeks to create a required mentorship program in public high schools to counsel students on the procedure to earn Bright Futures.

The bill seeks to create three basic obligations for a high school’s mentorship program on Bright Futures.

First, a counselor has to aid students in fulfilling the requirements of Bright Futures. Second, the schools must publicize scholarship recipients and application tips. Third, the schools should connect students with mentors who received the scholarship.

While the expansions seem simple, they will likely serve to equalize the playing field. Although Bright Futures is widely popular, students may need help understanding how to access it. 

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Changes made a few years ago to allow work hours to contribute, instead of just community service hours, means those with an after-school job might also be eligible. 

Letting those bright minds know can and must be done to expand its impact.

The need to return the textbook stipend

Bright Futures used to have a stipend, but it was removed a few years ago. The $600 stipend removal led to an extra $37.5 million in state coffers, yet textbooks remain expensive. This more so seemed — and still is — like adding weight on students.

The theory purported at the time was the stipend acted like a subsidy to the textbook companies. Despite this, I have not seen any efforts to combat costs. 

If I bought just one textbook for a class from our bookstore, it would have cost $300. The average cost is $105.37, and the industry is worth $2.58 billion, according to the Education Data Initiative.

We are now almost three years out from this stipend’s removal in 2021. Does it take that long to find a way to combat the greed of the Macmillen and McGraw Hill?

Takeaways

Arrington’s bills present a promising way to empower more future Gators. Considering how much of a magnet Bright Futures is, we must do everything to strengthen its pull.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has ended his quixotic race to be United States president. He should come back to get to work on the upcoming and ever-present challenges facing Bright Futures. 

He has spoken of the benefits of Bright Futures in the past and has been lauding education in Florida on the campaign trail. 

The older reforms previously mentioned were actually signed by him in 2023. At the same time, we need to be cautious of culture war drivel, like the ‘Classic Learning Test’ he stapled on.

Let’s all get to work to make our futures brighter (so hopefully, I can stop having to write about this).

Ronin Lupien is a UF biomedical engineering senior.



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