TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Purse strings for Florida's popular merit-based scholarship, Bright Futures, may soon be tightened.
A Senate panel advanced a bill via a party-line vote Tuesday afternoon limiting funding for areas of study that don't have promising job prospects.
Thomas Truong, a Florida high schooler, was among the dozens who watched the Senate Education Committee meeting in Tallahassee. He said he was there to fight for his future.
"This bill would take away funding from me and countless other students in Florida," Truong said. "Likely, I will not be able to go to college in Florida. I'll have to take on student debt and that's something I really don't want to do."
Truong has plans to pursue a history degree. He worries it would put him in jeopardy of a severely reduced Bright Futures scholarship if SB 86 gets final approval.
He and his friends, fellow high schoolers, created an online campaign to kill the bill. Their website regularly generates 1,000 hits a day and features a digital petition, which has collected more than 100,000 signatures.
"By passing this bill, you’re crushing a lot of students' dreams," Alexandro Valdez, one of Truong's friends said.
The policy's latest version would have education leaders, like the state university Board of Governors, create a list of degrees that don't lead directly to employment. Those on that list would be at risk of a reduced scholarship, according to the legislation.
Sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the change will encourage all areas of study to better connect students with jobs after graduation.
"We have to guide them towards more productive paths if we can," Baxley said. "It’s for no lack of regard for their abilities, but I know we have to take risks and do things differently if we're going to get more productive outcomes."
SB 86 also changes Bright Futures' aid structure. Currently, those qualified get 75% or 100% of tuition paid. The bill would instead tie aid to budget appropriations.
Democrats in committee came down hard on the legislation, calling it unneeded and "un-American."
"It just doesn't sound right," said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. "You're going to tell the students what they can and can't do?"
But opposition couldn't stop the GOP majority from advancing the policy to its second of three committee stops before reaching the full Senate.
Truong and his friends vowed to keep up their fight.
"We're not giving up on this," said Valdez. "We're ending this bill."
To date, members in the House have yet to file a version of the bill.