Bright Futures Under Fire: Senate Bill 86

By Amy Enberg

A new proposed bill on the Florida Senate floor might change how college students pursue education – or keep them from being able to at all.

Senate Bill 86, proposed by State Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), aims to limit the amount of funding students can receive through the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship. If the bill passes, students will only receive up to 60 credit hours of funding unless they continue in a state-approved degree program.

Senator Baxley defended this change, stating, “We want all of our students to succeed in meaningful careers that provide for their families and serve our communities. As taxpayers, we should all be concerned about subsidizing degrees that just lead to debt instead of the jobs our students want and need. We encourage all students to pursue their passions, but when it comes to taxpayer-subsidized education, there needs to be a link to our economy, and that is the goal of this legislation.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) also cited costs to taxpayers as a reason to support these limits. Though taxpayers may be paying for a percentage of the program, most of the funding for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program comes from the Florida Lottery. 

The total amount disbursed by Bright Futures in 2019-2020 was $618,607,165. According to the 2019-2020 Educational Enhancement Trust Fund report, the Florida Lottery appropriated $595,143,167 for Bright Futures. 

The changes laid out in Senate Bill 86 will impact future FSW students and current first-year students who have not chosen a major yet. FSW received $522,923.91 for Bright Futures in the 2019-2020 year, with 266 students receiving disbursements. 

While the proposed bill grandfathers in students who have or will have chosen a major before the 2022-2023 school year, students who choose a major within or after that school year will have to select one from the approved program list to receive Bright Futures funding. 

Other proposals within the bill will also impact the 3500 dual-enrolled students on FSW’s four campuses.

Section 9 adds the following, “beginning with students initially funded in the 2022-2023 academic year, the maximum number of credit hours which can be awarded must be reduced by the number of postsecondary credit hours the student has earned…” If a dual-enrolled student graduates with more than 60 credit hours for their Associate’s degree, the excess credit hours required to complete their Bachelor’s degree program will not be funded under Bright Futures. 

Mikehla Hicks, a former FSW student who graduated from the dual-enrollment program, said, “It takes away from the arts programs which is also very important. Public scholarships like Bright Futures should be equal opportunity no matter what major. Obviously our future has a growing demand in STEM but the Florida shouldn’t take away opportunities to get jobs elsewhere/anywhere. I couldn’t go to college without Bright Futures. I know many people couldn’t.”

Senate Bill 86 has to pass through the Education Committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and the Appropriations Committee to reach the final vote. In these phases, it may be amended, or it may fail.

As of Mar. 9, the debate on the bill has been temporarily postponed. The bill may undergo changes before it is introduced to the Education Committee. 

To voice your opinions on Senate Bill 86, you can contact your local State Senator. While State Senator Rodrigues (R-Lee) will not see the bill until it passes the three committees, State Senator Passidomo (R-Collier, R-Hendry) is on the Education Committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and the Appropriations Committee.

To find your state legislator, enter your address at this link: https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find.

Amy Enberg

Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Compass

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