Long-Term Bright Futures Reform Deferred Amid Governor’s Veto

Governor Rick Scott at Miami Dade College to sign education bill HB 477 (Public domain photo by Jesse Romimora.)

The politics of higher education was in full force during this year’s legislative session and it reached its tipping point when Governor Rick Scott vetoed a new Bright Futures bill which would have brought back the free ride system for some college seeking Floridians.

SB 374, or the Bright Futures bill, was introduced by Senator Dorothy Hukill, R-District 14, and was a major legislative initiative of Senate President Joe Negron. Before the bill reached the governor, it was unanimously approved by both chambers of the Florida Legislature.

Starting in 1997, Bright Futures was designed to offer scholarship funding to high school students in an attempt encourage in-state college enrollment. Currently, the top-tier Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars Award covers about half of in-state tuition which can vary between universities but is generally around $6,000.

Although the bill was vetoed, the new state budget did allocate about $300 million in extra education funding. Compared to last year, about $120 million more will be allotted to need-based financial aid and $180 million more will go toward Bright Futures.

There are 12 state universities and 28 state colleges in Florida. Having been a community college student at one point himself, Governor Scott did not agree with the provision in the bill that would allow significantly more money to state universities, while state colleges would lose funding necessary for their growth and expansion.

State colleges, formerly known as community colleges, would have lost $30 million overall with the new bill. Universities, on the other hand, would receive more of the funding to increase faculty and improve programs.

Valencia College in Orlando, for example, would have lost approximately $1 million from this bill, while a large state university would have received close to $25 million.

This multi-faceted bill was vetoed by Governor Scott even though he urged the Legislature to revisit it next year. He was enthusiastic about the provisions of the bill that increased Bright Futures funding for students, but thought that certain portions of the bill would “impede[s] the State College System’s mission by capping the enrollment level of baccalaureate degrees and unnecessarily increasing red tape.”

He stated in his veto message that a temporary expansion of Bright Futures will still be in effect and tweaks that would not hinder the growth of bachelor degree programs at state colleges would be a more favorable approach if the Legislature revisits the bill next year. 

Critics of the veto argue that Scott broke a promise that he had made earlier when he supported the idea of Bright Futures full rides. Senate President Joe Negron was a large advocate for the Bright Futures bill and strongly disagreed with Scott’s veto including the claim that the bill would hurt state colleges.

In a statement following the veto, Negron said “I fundamentally disagree that SB 374 makes positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges.”

The $82 billion Florida state budget which took effect July 1 along with the $180 million education stipend will cover additional education benefits despite the veto. According to the Department of Education, Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars Award recipients will receive a “full-ride” for the Fall, Spring, and Summer semesters of the 2017-2018 school year in addition to $300 each semester for textbooks. After Summer 2018, however, tuition disbursement will revert back to the original $3,000 a year until the Legislature drafts a new Bright Futures bill.

Governor Scott has voiced his hope that Floridians will see a new higher education bill in the coming years which will allow more students to enjoy a brighter future.

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