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Bright Futures bill in Florida loses employment provisions, retains new funding structure

'It certainly was improved with the amendment,' Sen. Janet Cruz says
Posted at 7:12 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 22:43:16-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s gone. Lawmakers have killed a controversial measure limiting college scholarships for some Bright Futures recipients.

A Senate panel approved and advanced a new version of SB 86 with a party-line vote Tuesday morning.

It no longer tethers scholarship dollars to a degree's job prospects. Students would only have to acknowledge their chosen field may not lead to immediate employment.

Sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he received more than 2,000 messages of concern about the bill. It prompted him to make the change.

State Sen. Dennis Baxley
State Sen. Dennis Baxley said he wasn't disappointed that the bill will no longer limit scholarships based on a student's major.

"I'm never disappointed," Baxley said. "That's what this process is about. ... We have a lot of respect for the long-term benefit of our students. We really are trying to help them get a grip on that.”

Bright Futures, a merit-based program, provided aid to more than 110,000 students last year alone. It cost about $618 million with funding fueled by the state lottery system.

Despite the rewrite of Senate Bill 86, Democrats still had funding concerns.

If approved, Bright Futures would no longer promise to pay 75 percent or 100 percent of student tuition. Lawmakers instead get to choose amounts through the budget process.

State Sen. Tina Polsky
State Sen. Tina Polsky raised concerns about future funding for the Bright Futures scholarship program in Florida.

"It certainly was improved with the amendment, but it's not the direction we should be moving," said Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

The GOP majority overpowered attempts by Cruz and Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, to change the measure. Republicans said future Legislatures may need funding flexibility.

Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, believed reducing Bright Futures funding was always within the Legislature's power. He said the bill simply clarifies that right.

"I don't think any member on this committee wants to cut Bright Futures," he said. "Everyone is loud and clear on that. If a GA (general appropriation) rolled out with a cut, I think you would see every member up here upset about that."

With approval from the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, the bill has one more stop before reaching the Senate floor. The policy would also need House approval before landing on the governor's desk.