Baxley's Bright Futures Scholarship Bill Gets Watered Down Again
A plan to revamp the state’s Bright Futures program is being further watered down amid opposition from parents and students. The original version of the proposal would have tied the higher education tuition scholarship to whether a student’s major leads to a job.
The newest version of Ocala Republican Senator Dennis Baxley’s bill would no longer tie Bright Futures funding to a student’s major. That provision drew outrage from educators, students and parents like Susie Drauer of Orlando, whose daughter was so determined to earn a full Bright Futures scholarship, "She spent all last summer studying for the SAT, and took practice test after practice test and brought her score up significantly because she wanted it that bad."
Drauer says her daughter hasn't quite decided on what she wants to do. She's only 17, "and that’s okay." Her concern is for other students who may be feeling the pressure to decide their futures immediately.
"I don’t know if they’re [lawmakers] aware that depression, anxiety and suicide is up in teenagers. There’s already so much pressure," Drauer says. "You’re supposed to have your life figured out at 17.”
Drauer worries the state’s efforts to keep changing Bright Futures requirements is only stressing out students more—rather than helping them. The scholarships have become increasingly difficult to obtain, to the detriment of many low-income and minority students.
Baxley’s proposal has undergone several changes as it's moved through committee amid widespread opposition. It no longer ties scholarship awards to programs and majors. Baxley acknowledged the role parents and students have played in his decisions to amend the bill.
“If anything, the publicity of this bill has demonstrated…the intensity of emotions wrapped around our children and their success, and that’s a good thing," he told the Senate's Education Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
What remains in the proposal are requirements that students undergo career counseling and the creation of a list of majors that don’t lead to jobs. The plan also still ties the scholarship amounts to state budget appropriations and removes language that requires tuition be either 100% or 75% funded depending on what the student qualifies for. The loss of a funding guarantee, says Allison Rausch, a Florida State University student, is unfair:
“You say you’ve never guaranteed students this money. But when I signed a contract to attend FSU I was promised a full cost-of-attendance scholarship…By decreasing the money allotted for our scholarships, you're breaking your promises to me and every student like me," she testified.
Republican lawmakers say Bright Futures scholarships have always been tied to state appropriations, and Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) says the funding is guaranteed -- for current students.
“These sixth and seventh graders, can we make the same guarantee for them," Hutson asked lawmakers. "I want to be very clear that every student who is qualified, who is in college right now, will be taken care of.”
The measure has cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote, but there is no House companion measure. Recently, Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked his take on the proposal. DeSantis says he supports fully funding the program.
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