“What happened to Bright Futures?” asked State Senator Dwight Bullard.
The Senator sought attention to the legislative cuts approved in this year’s state education budget. The Scholarship program was funded for $266.2 million in the budget, down from the $309.4 million approved for 2013-2014.
Created with Lottery funding in 1997, the merit-based scholarship program is designed to have bright Florida high school seniors earn a subsidy to stay in Florida for college. Eligibility is based on grades, community service and ACT or SAT test scores. The program grew from awards to about 42,000 students costing $70 million to today’s totals.
About 154,160 students participated last year with average awards of $2,007 each, according to the Florida Department of Education. The program expects 127,573 students to qualify this year.
“The students most impacted by these cuts are African Americans and Latinos,” Bullard said. “We say enough is enough.”
State legislators sought to cap spiraling costs by raising standards over time. SAT scores for Florida Medallion Scholars (eligible for 75% funding) were proposed to go from 970 in 2010-2011 to 1,050 last year. The legislature further raised those scores to 1170 for 2013-2014 to be eligible.
Because the program is solely merit-based, students whose parents can afford tuition qualify for funding. Current standards for Florida Academic Scholars – originally funding 100% of tuition and fees – are a SAT score of 1270, a weighted GPA of 3.5, and 100 hours of community service.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for civil Rights recently opened an inquiry into the Bright Futures program. The issue is whether use of SAT and ACT test scores violates fairness standards by discriminating against students on the basis of national origin and race.
The Florida College Access network found students’ benefiting from Bright Futures Scholarships are those least likely to require help affording college.
All this is a hot issue on the campaign trail for Governor Rick Scott and potential challenger former Governor Charlie Christ. Scott defends his funding recommendations by emphasizing cuts to higher education tuition and funding increases for universities themselves.
Attempts to control costs began under Christ in 2010 with approval of $1 cut in every credit hour for Bright Futures scholars.
The stakes are high with only 1 in 8 Florida seniors likely to be eligible for funding next year, instead of the 2006 high of 1 in 3 awarded scholarships.
Senator Bullard was joined by the Miami-Dade County Democrat executive director, Juan Cuba.
“Under Scott, we will see a much bleaker future for students,” Cuba said.
At current levels, the legislatively approved funding for Bright Futures in 2017 will reach only 21,711 at a cost of $180.4 million with SAT eligibility set at 1290 for reading and writing comprehension. The amended program also seeks to collect financial data from recipients and their families to understand the impact of Bright Futures scholarships.