Florida Senate Education Committee Passes Student Financial Aid Bill to Next Step


Florida state senators on Tuesday brought forward a controversial bill that would limit the popular Florida Bright Futures scholarship program.

Originally tabled by Senator Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, Senate Bill 86 proposes changes to the Bright Futures scholarship program that would limit the amount of money awarded to students based on the major chosen. The bill was passed by the Senate Education Committee with 5 to 4 votes.

During the 2019-2020 school year, 25,190 UF students were on Bright Futures, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldán wrote in an email. Globally, 111,973 Florida students benefited from the program that year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled his opposition to the bill on Wednesday when he expressed support for the scholarship program during a press conference, saying he thinks many Florida families rely on Bright Futures.

“I funded it fully in my budget, and we’re hoping the legislature will follow suit as well,” DeSantis said.

If the bill passes, by December 31, 2021, “Florida’s board of governors, state board of education, and independent colleges and universities” must each publish a list of programs that “do not not lead directly to employment, ”according to the invoice. For the 120 credit hours of a program to be covered by Bright Futures, students cannot be enrolled in a major on the list.

Additionally, students will receive less money based on the number of college credits earned in high school through advanced placement, dual enrollment, and other means.

Following opposition from students and parents across the state, Baxley published amendments to the bill on Monday after its initial committee hearing was postponed. The changes would put in place new features and requirements, including an online dashboard and college career planning procedures, according to the bill. But, many key points of the bill remain.

During the meeting, Senator Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said about 70 people – most of whom were students – gathered at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, an arena on the Florida State campus. University, to remotely address committee members due to COVID -19 security procedures. During the period of public testimony, senators watched those testifying on a virtual screen.

Students who initially receive scholarship funds for the 2023 to 2024 school year will be affected by the list of programs not eligible for full funding, according to the amendment. However, the reduction in student funding based on the number of college credits obtained in high school will take effect during the 2022 to 2023 school year.

Current students would be grandfathered in the proposed bill, meaning they would be exempt from the changes, Baxley said at the meeting.

The bill states that the Board of Governors of the state university system is to create an online public scorecard to be released by January 1, 2022. The scorecard will include data organized by academic discipline on the median student loan debt and the median after graduation. salary one, five and 10 years after graduation. It will also indicate the percentage of graduates whose studies continued after obtaining their bachelor’s degree.

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The bill clarifies that the purpose of the scorecard is to help students and their families make decisions about their education and to provide information on future employment opportunities.

The changes also include requirements for the state university board of trustees to help students plan their careers during their first year of enrollment, for example through a preparation module. career, according to Bill. The plans must be approved by the Board of Governors of the state university system by March 1, 2022.

Two amendments to Baxley’s Amendment failed during the meeting, which would have removed the lines on creating a list of ineligible programs and given students a way to appeal for full funding.

“It doesn’t seem fair that you are going to tell students what they can and cannot do,” Sen. Perry Thurston Jr., D-Fort Lauderdale, said at the meeting.

Alondra Arce, a 20-year-old second-year sustainability and sociology student at UF, said she felt disappointed when she saw the news of the bill being passed by the committee. .

Arce, who previously organized a group of students to paint a mural protesting against the bill on March 7, said his group’s next goals were to plan a campus protest and gain support from ‘UF after the student government association at Florida International University publicly opposed the bill.

“I would really like UF to also do something similar to show that they’re with us because it’s going to affect us, right, and anything that impacts students is going to impact UF, ”Arce said.

Uma McIntosh, a 19-year-old UF history and political science junior, believes the bill is bad for Florida’s overall education system. Bright Futures gives students the opportunity to attend school in Florida who might not otherwise be able to afford it, she said.

Despite the close vote, McIntosh was surprised the Senate education committee passed the bill. Scholarships are given to students because they are working to get their grades in high school, and Bright Futures specifically offers students the opportunity to go to college, she said.

“I don’t see why representatives from our community would have gone through this knowing how much we appreciate it,” McIntosh said.

Taylor Callaway, a 19-year-old first-year nursing student at UF, said she didn’t think the bill would go this far due to its postponement and the backlash it received. With the extra money provided by Bright Futures, Callaway was able to explore her interests in college and make sure she was on the right track, she said.

“People come to college to figure out what they want to do – to pursue a career and a path that will make them happy – and they shouldn’t have to figure out what that path is because of what the government considers worthy, ”she said. noted.

While the proposed bill does not affect Callaway, she said receiving more money than those around her because of her nursing specialization would not suit her morally.

“It’s not just about one person, it’s about everyone,” she said.

The bill will be considered by the Subcommittee on Education on March 23.

Contact Juliana Ferrie at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ juliana_f616.

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Juliana Ferrie

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