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Education
Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida Lawmakers Cut Two Financial Programs For College Students

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Cuts to a pair of Florida higher education programs would save approximately $42 million a year.

Florida lawmakers decided this session to eliminate a pair of programs, including a $600 stipend to Bright Futures recipients.

During the recently concluded 2021 legislative session, members of the Florida House and Senate decided to get rid of two tuition assistance programs.

Combined, the moves save $42 million — but may come at a cost to thousands of students.

While the planned elimination of the Access to Better Learning and Education (ABLE) program saves $5 million, the cutting of a $600 textbook stipend that Bright Futures recipients received every year saves $37 million.

The cuts come despite federal funds that helped lawmakers approve a proposed $101.5 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, lawmakers said the moves were done because of a tough budget year where they were required to make permanent changes for the future.

ABLE was created in 2003 to give students who normally would not qualify for need-based or merit-based grants a chance to go to college.

In fiscal 2019-2020, approximately 2,290 students in Florida received the assistance, which helps them pay private college tuition.

It was challenged by contested by many, including lobbyist Mark Anderson, who couldn’t see why the cut was necessary.

“When you look at what they did to ABLE grants, they didn't impose metrics on ABLE grants, they just abolish the program. And I don't know how you improve a program by abolishing the only access these students have to go to college.”

While the elimination of the ABLE grants is something that will be felt by private universities, Anderson said it will hurt the students the most.

“For many of them, they're coming back after a year where a pandemic has forced closures of several institutions of higher learning, they've got an ABLE grant that is continuing that degree program for them,” he said.

“Now that grant is being taken away from them, in many cases, right as they're approaching graduation or getting close to that point of finishing the degree program and getting placed into a job that's in very high demand that we know is staying here in Florida.

"So it's a very damaging impact to students at a time when they need it more than ever.”

The Times reports Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) said ABLE was being eliminated because the state could not justify giving taxpayer-funded aid to for-profit schools.

In addition, lawmakers suspended an annual $600 stipend Bright Futures recipients receive for textbooks. Earlier in the session, House Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, said the stipend was “subsidizing textbook companies.”

The House also voted 81-36 to approve HB-5601, a bill that would make eligibility changes to the Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) program.

Anderson’s message to lawmakers about these changes is to make sure they don't who is at risk when these types of bills get passed.

“I just think it's all about the students, the direction of our legislature this year was to expand access and choice in K-12, you saw the expansion of choice and access through expanded vouchers, expanded access for charter schools and K-12,” he said.

Both decisions still need to be signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. Anderson and other supporters of the program are lobbying him to veto it.

“It's not the students’ fault, let's not punish the students. If we want to make these programs better, let's do that, but let's not just simply eliminate the program altogether.

"Right now, these students are going to be having these grants taken from them through no fault of their own simply because of where they've chosen to go to college.”

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