Florida lawmakers backed out of their many plans to end their beloved higher education scholarship after a series of traumatic events for students and parents, but the battle to maintain the program is over.
More than 110,000 college students received a scholarship for Bright Futures by 2020, but that number is likely to be significantly lower after Republican Senator Sen.Dennis Baxley introduced Senate Bill 86. The payer can receive this award, which pays between 75 and 100 percent of higher education at public and private universities.
If passed in its original form, SB 86 would exclude students who want to study history, art or English, without the scholarship money that has been part of Florida's higher education program since the 1990s. International students seem to be forced to choose between tuition fees and their academic interests.
"It was very painful," said high school student Alexandro Valdez, 16, about the proposal. "The politician said my dreams should not be funded."
The bursary-based bursary uses money from the state lottery and is awarded to the most successful students based on a combination of high school credits, limited test scores, voluntary hours and GPA limits. Since 1997, the state has provided $ 6.8 billion in tuition fees to more than 2.8 million students. But the first proposed cuts were not limited to majors limits - SB 86 would also reduce the assistance provided to students who have already taken college or Advanced Placement in high school, and would reduce the amount given to those who have some experience with other students.
Valdez was not alone in his rage. Students, parents, arts groups and others say that SB 86 will damage the system that in some cases, does not reach the educational opportunities available to the best performing students in government. The current students in the program said they were blind, as did top students who planned all their high school education through study.
"When our education is disrupted, our thoughts and inputs should be considered," Valdez said.
He and a group of young people from Orlando and Tallahassee jumped in and took action. They created a website, "Save Bright Futures" which provided details of what was happening and how they could help. Explaining the bill to reach a wider audience, they set targets and encouraged other Florida people to sign petitions, call representatives, and attend Senate hearings to testify.
Kaylee Duong, 18, who helped organize the Save Bright Futures campaign, said the proposed changes put her in a difficult position. Officer, Duong is currently trying to decide where to go to college. Both of her older brothers accepted the scholarship and as she attended middle and high school, her family made sure she got all the necessities so that she could get it with her. SB 86 made Duong think more about foreign colleges, where he thought his financial aid might be stable.
"It is safe to say that if this had not happened, it would have been easier to choose and I would have gone to the province," he said. Not lost to Duong is part of Bright Futures' point to protect brain drain and keep the world's most intelligent students at home.
One of Duong's co-editors, Lorenzo Urayan, who wants to go to art school, is worried that he will not be able to pay for college without learning something from state legislatures that appear to be "useful" under the proposed changes.
"I think both STEM and personality are important," said Urayan, 17. "It's not fair for politicians to decide what to study."
In a letter to government officials in March announcing the withdrawal of some of the most controversial reforms, Baxley acknowledged the seriousness of the crisis and wrote "We have raised a giant."
"It's not a good debt yet," he said. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who had received a Bright Futures scholarship while in college.
Some members of the House of Representatives are now proposing a reduction in tuition fees, which will save $ 37 million.
On Wednesday, SB 86 will be read again in the state senate, this time about the source of its funding. Legislators now want to fund this money through the state budget instead of the lottery, which means that the amount of money going into the program will change from year to year. Many lawyers see this as a way to earn a full scholarship.
"We are just talking to them, it depends on our financial situation and how much we can afford to pay," Baxley said at a hearing last week.
If funding changes, students say they will be shocked, unsure of how much money they will earn each year and whether they can go back to college.
The system itself is not perfect. Black students make up more than 21 percent of Florida K-12 students, but only 6 percent of Bright Futures black recipients. And while white students make up 36 percent of the total students, they have reached more than half of their bursary recipients each year since the program began.
Experts have found that government-sponsored merit funding often provides funding for students who are already proficient, and does not focus on improving access for needy students, said Justin Ortagus, director of the Institute of Higher Education at Florida University College of Education.