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Florida Sen. Baxley changes Bright Futures Scholarship bill after backlash

Sen. Dennis Baxley said the bill had received a lot of attention, and he believes his amendment represents 'a concrete step forward' in discussions.
Credit: The Florida Channel
State Sen. Dennis Baxley discussing the Senate version of a bill he supports that would eliminate ballot drop boxes on Wednesday, March 10.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Following an outcry, the state lawmaker behind a bill that would have altered Florida's Bright Futures Scholarship Program has taken out the most controversial elements of the proposed law.

Back in February, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala filed SB 86, which would have required the scholarships to be re-evaluated each semester, and would limit funding for certain majors that don't lead "directly to employment."

At the time, Baxley indicated he wanted to encourage students to follow their passions. But, as far as taxpayer-subsidized education programs were concerned, he said there needed to be a stronger link between the scholarship program and Florida's economy.

But, in a new letter to fellow lawmakers, which was first reported by our news partners at WWSB, Baxley said he filed a "strike-all" amendment Monday morning that removes several sections from the proposed legislation, following discussions with individuals around the state.

"My goal in filing Senate Bill 86 was to begin the discussion about both the cost and the value of the degrees and programs within our higher education system," Sen. Baxley wrote in the letter. "Based on your feedback, and with that goal in mind, I have filed an amendment that represents a concrete step forward in this discussion, while at the same time preserving the merit-based financial aid benefits our students earned in high school, regardless of which undergraduate path the student chooses."

The letter says the following elements of the bill would be removed with the newly-filed amendment:

  • The reduction of a Bright Futures or Benacquisto Scholarship award amount tied to student enrollment in a certificate or degree program on a list created by the BOG, SBE, or ICUF.
  • The reduction in the total number of credits in a Bright Futures award by the number of acceleration credits applied.
  • The provision relating to graduate study for Bright Futures award recipients tied to the certificate and degree list, which simply retains current law relating to graduate study.

The amendment, however, also adds a requirement that  – as part of state university policies to release holds on student registrations after the first year  – students must "affirmatively indicate" that they have received required career information and understand their future job and wage prospects based on their declared majors.

Baxley's letter also spells out the provisions of the bill that are not being removed, including:

  • Creation of an online dashboard for university graduate employment and education outcomes, and a requirement that a hold be placed on each student’s registration after the first year until the student has met specific conditions.
  • Requirement for the BOG, SBE, and ICUF to establish lists of certificate and degree programs that do not directly lead to employment.
  • Modification of Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars (FAS) and the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) awards, which:
    • Adds additional alternative eligibility options relating to earning an associate degree through dual enrollment or an AP Capstone Diploma.
    • Changes the FAS and FMS award to as specified in the GAA.
  • Modification of the Benacquisto Scholarship Program to limit initial eligibility for non-resident students to the 2021-2022 academic year, and award as specified in the GAA.
  • Clarification that fee exemptions related to student in DCF care apply to students aged 18 and under.

"We have awakened a giant. We have to reconnect the education and economic model and we have begun that process," Sen. Baxley wrote in his letter. Click here to read the full letter.

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