12/14/2012 07:15 am ET

Bright Futures Bill Would Force Grads To Remain In Florida -- Or Pay

A state legislator wants Florida's Bright Futures scholarship recipients to pay back the cost of their education if they take jobs outside the state or fail to earn a degree.

House Bill 35 was introduced Wednesday by its sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Inverness), who states students should have to stay and work in Florida for six months for every semester they received scholarship money in order to avoid repayment.

The legislation states any "student who receives an [scholarship] award, but who does not graduate or complete the program for which the award was received or no longer resides the state after graduation...must reimburse the state for the amount of the award received."

The bill dictates that the Florida Department of Education monitor where state scholarship recipients are living and working, and determine methods of collection.

Education advocates have already expressed concern that the bill would penalize students for a number of reasons, including a job market they cannot control.

"This specific proposal hamstrings graduates and forces them to stay home and work lower-tiered jobs and live with their parents so they don't have to pay," Michael Long, a public policy major at New College and recent chairman of the Florida Student Association, told the Orlando Sentinel.

Implemented under former Gov. Lawton Chiles (D) in 1997 as a pathway to in-state colleges and universities for students who excel academically, the Bright Futures program has suffered significant changes since its creation.

Most recently, Gov. Rick Scott (R) gutted the lottery-funded program in 2011 when he cut the state's education budget by $1.3 billion. It now awards prorated tuition payments in-state with emphasis on the public college and university systems.

Pending passage in both chambers, the bill would go into effect for students first receiving state scholarship funds in the 2014-15 academic year.