Gainesville community members gather as student financial aid bill progresses to Florida Senate


Car horns and frenzied cheers erupted this week through the streets and sidewalks of Gainesville in protest against Senate Bill 86, even as the controversial bill progressed through the Florida Senate for second reading on Wednesday.

Written by State Senator Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the bill revises the eligibility of students to receive the Florida Bright Futures scholarships by establishing a financial reward based on the amount specified by the General Appropriations Act. In this way, the public revenues fully provided by the Florida Lottery could be used to fund other government spending instead of guaranteeing a 100% or 75% college scholarship to students who meet existing requirements.

“It’s not a contract or an insurance policy or anything like that. It’s a program that we do to encourage people to have successful lives and bright futures,” Baxley said during the session. Legislative. “It’s not a very bright future if you can’t make a career out of the degree you have.”

Passionate about maintaining college scholarships, Nicole Howes led two peaceful community rallies against the public sidewalk bill Tuesday afternoon near West Newberry Road and Wednesday morning near the University Avenue intersection and 13th Street. The 53-year-old mother-of-two stressed the importance of raising public awareness about the bill before it reaches the Senate, where public comment would no longer be an option.

“This is really our last opportunity to have our voices heard,” Howes said.

The bill was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 31, an event which Howes says attracted little awareness and gave him little time to stage a rally given the statutory holiday weekend that immediately took hold. followed. Although he encouraged members of the local community on Facebook to peacefully challenge the bill on Monday, Howes was only joined by four other people on Tuesday.

“Most people don’t know this is happening, and those who do get a lot of mixed information,” Howes said. “I think it really affects us all. I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to start losing our brightest students. “

In addition to SB 86, Howes raised concerns about Senate Bill 1728. Also drafted by Baxley, the bill would require state universities to waive tuition fees for non-resident students who meet certain requirements and have a grandparent residing in the state.

Howes said the bill would allow out-of-state students to take advantage of grants to state public universities provided by Florida taxpayers.

“This will not only potentially displace our students, but lose huge amounts of revenue for universities and colleges,” Howes said. “If you have all these foreign students coming in, our students are going to be kicked out. “

Listen below: Howes, a retired lawyer, is a stay-at-home school mom who began researching and following up with the State Senate after learning about the creation of the bill . “We live in a university district, so we are surrounded by university parents. I don’t know where the information started, but once it started the parents started talking and messages started popping up, ”she said. (Jessica Torrente / WUFT News)

Salem Ridlon, 16, holds his sign high so commuters traveling along Archer Road can see it on Tuesday. “If more people are against (the bill), I hope it can convince lawmakers that we still need it in our schools,” she said. (Jessica Torrente / WUFT News)

Jennifer Paugh-Miller led an additional rally against SB 86 Tuesday afternoon on the sidewalk near Target on Archer Road. The 48-year-old mother-of-two said the bill would not only impact her own children in high school, but also harm the current one – the bill contains no grandfather clause – and future students who do not get a scholarship from their university.

“I feel determined to come here… because of all the other students it affects all over the state, especially the most disadvantaged that they just need to do well in school, and that’s there for them, ”Paugh-Miller said. “If they take that away, they certainly hurt these underprivileged people just as much as they hurt mine, and I think that’s wrong.”

Although a number of students have already benefited from Bright Futures scholarships, many high school students have yet to enter college knowing that this type of financial aid is guaranteed.

One of those students is Salem Ridlon.

The 16-year-old sophomore from Buchholz High School in Gainesville attended the rally on Tuesday with her mother, Miller-Ridlon. Ridlon said she has been relying on the Bright Futures Exchange for as long as she can remember.

On Tuesday, a group of Gainesville residents put up signs challenging Senate Bill 86 on the sidewalk near Target on Archer Road. (Jessica Torrente / WUFT News)

“By eliminating it or making it so that it isn’t as easy to be able to pay for college or not and then with that added in it can be pretty damaging,” Ridlon said.

Ridlon works part-time, takes an advanced placement course, and plays several instruments for his school band. Despite her multiple responsibilities, Ridlon said she is still working to get the scholarship.

“I hope if I get Bright Futures it can still pay for part of my college tuition,” she said.

SB 86 is now placed on the schedule for its third and final procedural reading, where the entire state Senate will vote on the bill before it reaches the House. The dates for these final readings have not yet been announced.