Lawmakers still aim to penalize Bright Futures grantees for not taking ‘approved’ majors
Under pressure from a student-led opposition campaign, lawmakers are expected to revise a controversial Senate proposal that would tie Bright Futures scholarships to a list of job-creating diplomas.
The measure (SB 86) was tabled last week before being considered by the Senate Education Committee. The sponsor, Senator Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, told reporters at the time that he was receiving “a lot of different contributions” on the proposal, which he said left him wanting to “hit the brakes.”
Under the bill as originally tabled, students at state colleges and universities would not be eligible for Bright Futures scholarships if they enrolled in degree programs not listed on lists of “approved” programs. Students who did not choose study programs would be eligible for 60 hours of classes covered by the popular scholarship program.
But the Senate Education Committee is expected to consider an amendment on Tuesday that would make significant changes to the bill. Under the amendment tabled by Baxley, Bright Futures scholarships would be “reduced”, not canceled, for students who do not choose an academic discipline deemed promising for employment prospects.
Baxley sent a letter to committee members on 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 choose a degree or program of study that the BOG has determined will not lead to employment will receive a reduced scholarship amount (not eliminated), ”Baxley wrote, referring to the University System Board of Governors of the ‘State.
The amended plan would require the Board of Governors, the State Board of Education, and the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida to maintain those lists. The change linking Bright Futures’ eligibility to rosters would take effect in the 2023-2024 academic year, a year later than the original proposed plan. It would also apply to the state’s Benacquisto scholarship program for National Merit Scholars.
The amendment would also require the Board of Governors to develop an online dashboard with data on graduates from various fields of study. The dashboard should include information such as median salary after graduation, average student debt, and debt-to-income ratio.
“I hope the research will show that all or most of the degrees our higher education institutions offer DO lead to jobs. But if there are degrees that don’t, I believe we have a moral obligation to let the student know, ”Baxley wrote to the committee.
If passed, the Baxley Amendment would retain some of the features of the original proposal. One such arrangement would change the current tiered structure of providing Bright Futures support at 75% or 100% of tuition and fees to link scholarship levels to the amount allocated in the state budget.
This part of the bill angered students behind the Save Bright Futures group, which created a website and petitioned against the Senate measure.
“There is so much pending on how much students receive per scholarship. So even if you get approved, even if you work hard to get the scholarship… they don’t guarantee a certain percentage of your tuition, ”Kaylee Duong, a high school student from Orlando who is part of the group, told News Florida Service in an interview last week.
The amendment changes part of the original bill that would reduce the number of credit hours Bright Futures grantees would be entitled to if they earned college credits through an “acceleration mechanism,” like the AP or the international baccalaureate classes in high school.
Baxley wrote in his letter to the Senate Education Committee that the provision would remain, but “the amendment specifies the deduction only if the credit is accepted by the institution and applies to the requirements of a career program or to general training course. “
Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson R-Trilby approved the bill and told reporters last week that the “theme” of the measure would remain even with changes.
“Our concern is whether there are degrees that do not lead to jobs. And so, we’re always going to be looking to reduce the Bright Futures portion of this opportunity if that doesn’t lead to a job, ”Simpson said.
Meanwhile, a house version of Baxley’s bill has not been tabled.
Minority House Co-Leader Evan Jenne D-Dania Beach criticized the proposal as “a horrible idea” but told reporters during a media availability Monday “you still have to be ready for any bill to pass in the House. “
“I think it might be a little more difficult time here than in the Senate,” Jenne said.
–Ryan Dailey, Florida Press Service