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What’s Going on with Bright Futures?

Florida Bright Futures is a beacon of hope for students in the state of Florida who want to go to college after graduating high school. According to the scholarship program, as of September 2020, 111,973 students were given some form of the scholarship for the 2019-2020 academic year.

If you don’t know what Bright Futures is, it’s a scholarship program funded by the Florida Lottery for Florida residents who attended high school in Florida. The general requirements are pretty basic: be a Florida resident and a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, earn a diploma from a standard high school, not have any felonies on their record, be accepted and enrolled in a program at a Florida institution and be enrolled in at least six credit hours per term.

However, Republican State Senator Dennis Baxley wants to change that.

Senate Bill 86, submitted on Feb. 23, aims to limit who is eligible for the scholarship and what the scholarship would cover.

There are two levels of the Bright Futures scholarship: the Florida Academic Scholarship and the Florida Medallion Scholarship. The FAS covers 100% of tuition and applicable fees and gives a $300 stipend each semester for additional expenses. The FMS covers 75% of tuition and applicable fees.

Currently, both of the scholarships require 16 high school credits: four English, four math, three natural science, three social science and two world language. The FAS requires a 3.50 high school weighted Bright Futures GPA, a 29 on the ACT or a 1330 on the SAT and 100 community service hours. The FMS requires a 3.00 high school weighted Bright Futures GPA, a 25 on the ACT or a 1210 on the SAT and 75 community service hours. There are certain exceptions, such as receiving an AICE or IB diploma waving the standardized testing requirement, but that’s the general gist of the current requirements.

SB 86, however, wants to change how the scholarships are given out by prioritizing funds to certain career fields. It would only give the full financial aid to students that choose a degree program whose graduates will be in high demand in the workplace. So, basically, it would depend on how hirable you are fresh out of college.

“If you’re at the end of that line with your degree and you’re not hirable and you’ve got a lot of debt, that’s just not a bright future,” said Baxley to WESH 2 news in Orlando.

While the list of degree programs has not been created yet, it is most likely to include mainly STEM majors and trades (plumbing, repair services, etc.). What if you don’t want to pursue those types of careers? Well, the (somewhat) good news is that you aren’t left completely out of luck. Those who decide to go for a program not on the list will get the first 60 credits (typically two years) of their undergraduate degrees covered by Bright Futures.

It’s also important to note that black and Hispanic students are more likely than white students to choose paths like humanities and social sciences, which are likely to be impacted by this bill. This means that minorities are more likely to be affected if funding for those majors is cut.

The list of approved majors would have to go through a review by the Board of Governors and the Department of Education.

Another item on the bill’s agenda is to make it that the scholarship does not cover college-level courses taken in high school, such as Advanced Placement, AICE and IB, again. The issue that people have with this is that even though the students have taken the class, the university may not accept the credit. Just because someone took the class and passed the exam in high school, it does not mean that they won’t have to take it again in college.

Democratic Florida Representative Anna Eskamani has voiced her opposition to the bill, saying that she wouldn’t be where she is today without Bright Futures. She also pointed out that the economy changes frequently and rapidly and that the newest need for employees could change.

Why change Bright Futures now, though? According to the Tampa Bay Times, reshaping the scholarship program, which is $618 million, could possibly save the state money because of budget cuts due to COVID-19.

If passed, the bill will go into effect on July 1, meaning that students in college now could possibly feel the impacts.

Opposition for the passage of this bill has been growing among students. As of Mar. 10, a petition created by high school senior Jocelyn Meyer to the Florida State Senate has over 80,000 signatures.

“This bill discredits and discriminates against the hard work of talented and creative students who plan on pursuing artistic degrees,” said Meyer in the description of the petition.

A group of students has also created a website with information on Bright Futures, the bill and how to contact the right people to make sure their voices are heard called savebrightfutures.org.

Due to this pressure from students and some pressure from other Florida lawmakers, the vote on the bill was postponed on Mar. 9. By no means does this mean that the bill is dead, just that it is undergoing revisions and will be voted on at a later date.

If the bill does not end up passing, though, Baxley does not see a future for it.

Lauren Cooney is a junior at the University of Florida, where she studies journalism with a sports and media specialization and psychology. She is a features writer for Her Campus UFL, and she also volunteers with UF's video production team GatorVision.
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