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Tampa students protest budget cuts and bill that would implement cuts to Bright Futures

By staff

Tampa students defend their right to an education.

Tampa, Fl – Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held a 20-person protest outside the University of South Florida’s (USF) entrance on April 20 opposing the university’s budget cuts and a state bill restricting the Bright Futures scholarship. Bright Futures provides 75 to 100% of an eligible student’s tuition. USF is implementing $36.7 million in cuts to areas such as student success, financial aid and health services.

Senate Bill 86 initially restricted Bright Futures based on whether a student’s major would lead to employment. The current bill version requires students to complete modules on career outlook for their majors. Many students worry that data from these modules and graduation rates will become evidence to cut scholarships for non-STEM majors.

“This bill really exposes Florida’s true priorities, they only care about students when it’s profitable to them,” said Gia Davila, member of Tampa Bay SDS.

The funding of Bright Futures as a whole may also be subject to change. SB 86 would remove the strict 75-100% tuition coverage and have the program’s budget discussed annually. The bill would make it easier for legislators to reduce Bright Future’s funding. This year, Florida is considering removal of the $600 textbook stipend included with Bright Futures.

“The fact that the bill targets majors that are pursued primarily by marginalized people who already have difficulties securing jobs let alone get equal pay is especially troubling,” said Gareth Dawkins, a member of Tampa Bay SDS.

USF’s budget cuts could have similar consequences to SB 86. Reducing staff, course options, scholarships and health services would negatively impact students and workers. Several positions were eliminated from the athletics department last fall.

“It is absurd to see USF lay off workers and make cuts to our education while simultaneously constructing a $54 million building. They are getting rid of workers who are essential to the quality of our education and the inner workings of the university,” said Laura Rodriguez, a member of Tampa Bay SDS.

USF promised to cut the police budget by 5% last fall. Tampa SDS began demanding USF defund its police after the Justice for George Floyd movement last summer. SDS delayed starting the April 20 event to hear the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial. The organizers agreed that if Chauvin was found not guilty, the protest would have focused on the verdict. After the guilty verdict, protesters still chanted, “Take it to the streets, defund the police! No justice, no peace!” The rest of the event demanded defunding the police as part of SDS’s Chop from the Top campaign.

Tampa SDS will continue to oppose measures that harm students and university workers, at USF across the state of Florida. They plan to continue their fight against the school’s budget cuts into the summer.

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