Activism | March 29th, 2021

Save Bright Futures In Danger: Florida Students Leaders React

By: Kailyn Rhone
Save Bright Futures In Danger: Florida Students Leaders React

Federal scholarships allow countless students to attend college in pursuit of a degree to be educationally qualified for their future careers. And as Florida is known as one of the most affordable states to attend college, lawmakers are planning to take away one of the most prominent scholarships, Bright Futures, for Florida college students in specific majors.

The scholarship currently covers 75 percent to 100 percent of tuition, a system that has been in action since the legislature restored the top awards in 2018. In late February, lawmakers proposed the SB 86 bill, a bill sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) and backed by leaders in both chambers — that would alternatively base Bright Futures on an allowance, set annually in Florida’s budget. This could potentially alter the lives of roughly over 119,925 students who currently receive this award. The SB 86 bill also proposes that only students in “market-driven” majors will benefit from this scholarship. 

Since then, Florida students statewide and even nationally have been rallying against GOP lawmakers  to save the funding through social media, online petitions, attending hearings, and student-led organizations/websites.

The University of North Florida’s Student Government Association, President Ally Schneider and Vice President Kayla Dougherty traveled to Tallahassee alongside other Florida SGA leaders statewide to the remote hearing on March 16 with the Florida Senate Education Committee, all documented on their Instagram

In an Instagram video, Dougherty shares her remarks in Tuesday’s hearing: “I am a senior majoring in Political Science and Philosophy. I’m planning on going to law school someday. However, I wanted to experience the legal world before I jumped into it, and as I applied to law firms, I got into a reputable law firm as a legal assistant because they loved my resume. I’m a member of the Student Conduct Board… and I’m a three year-long member of Student Government. Without this scholarship, I know that I would not have been able to take advantage of these opportunities.”

The UNF’s SGA also partnered  with Florida A&M University’s SGA to conduct some more meetings with state representatives. As the bill has now passed committee, student leaders statewide still plan to save Bright Futures.

Nyla Surprise — a graduating senior at Nova High School — applied for Bright Futures and wasn’t aware of the scholarship being in danger until recently. She shares how it’s unfair for lawmakers to push forward with this bill.

“If I’m being honest, this is the first time I’ve heard of this. I find this to be completely unfair for the students who don’t want to go into a major in the market-driven business,” said Surprise. “If I get the Bright Futures Scholarship, it will help me with the stress of paying for school. It would make life extremely easy for me not having to worry that I will end up having so much debt after graduation.”

Journey  spoke with Save Bright Futures, a student-led organization with a fully-launched website, about their tireless efforts in the pursuit to save the scholarship for current and future generations. Lorenzo Urayan, a senior at Lake Nona High School and the lead graphic and web designer of Save Bright Futures, shares his insight on the organization and the matter at hand.

Editor’s note: This conversation has been condensed and slightly edited for clarity.

How was this organization was created?

This organization began in late February when I was on a call with some friends when we found out that SB 86 was proposed. Looking through the bill along with some other resources regarding what it was about, we realized how unfair it was. So we decided to come together and create Save Bright Futures to spread the word in hopes that the opposition against it would prevent this bill from passing. Since then, we have collaborated with other groups with similar interests and have grown and spread from there, which we are extremely grateful for.

What are you doing to save Bright Futures for future generations in Florida?

Currently, we are working on testifying against the bill this Tuesday, March 16, to express our opposition to the bill and push for the bill to die in committee. We also continuously post on social media and update the website if any news or updates come, such as revisions or amendments regarding the bill.

What were your initial thoughts when you heard lawmakers plan to scale back Bright Futures tuition coverage for students?

My initial thoughts in regards to the bill were that it was unfair. There is really not much more to that because I couldn’t tell who or how anyone would benefit from this. For one, it will funnel people into fixed careers, and it will put even more Floridians in debt. This is assuming they don’t seek college opportunities in other states, which is a whole new problem for the Florida economy itself if that were to happen.

How has Bright Futures has impacted you personally, along with the organization itself?

Bright Futures is currently impacting me because  I want to go to Ringling College of Art and Design to pursue an art major, which obviously, is not cheap. Bright Futures would relieve a significant amount of debt that would make pursuing my degree more comfortable. Being a part of Save Bright Futures is also important to me because I believe in this cause; when we first began we all pretty much had the same job, which was to be informed about the bill. Since then we have branched out jobs, and even though my main job is being the graphic design lead, I still handle some social media outreach or other responsibilities when the time calls for it. The point is that me and the students who come after should not have to worry about this type of issue. Pursuing one’s passion should be encouraged, and no one should feel the need to drop it because there is no support for it.

How many people have you reached through this program and what is the ultimate goal for the organization to reach? 

Currently, we have 102,000 people who have signed the petition. We are working with other college groups and working towards reaching our message across to other Floridians and legislators and representatives. Our goal is to make sure this bill does not pass. Preventing it from getting past the committee is the ideal goal for us currently.

What do you have to say to those eager to mobilize with you all?

I would like to say that it is important for  our futures, and  the generations after us to make sure this bill does not pass. Student debt is already a struggle that students and even parents go through, so this bill would only negatively affect us Floridians. I encourage people to visit our website if they would like more information, and wish to contact their representatives to also let them know they are in opposition of SB86. Doing these things could quite literally save students and parents tens of thousands of dollars.