Democrats want funds for college protected

Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 10:08 p.m.


Scholarship recipients

  • About 25,000 new students received Bright Futures scholarships last year.
  • Each scholarship is worth about $3,000.

  • TALLAHASSEE - Florida's popular prepaid tuition plan and its Bright Futures scholarship program should not be scaled back, even in a tight budget year, Democratic lawmakers said Monday.
    "Democrats are drawing a line in the sand on this issue," Senate Minority Leader Ron Klein said Monday. "We're not going to bargain. We believe many Republicans will join us is this endeavor because it's too important to the future of our families and to the economy."
    Democrats are worried that recommendations from an education task force has left the door open for cutbacks in the face of dwindling state income.
    "This country has put education and training first," said Klein, D-Boca Raton.
    But Republicans can pretty much do what they want with a 26-14 majority in the Senate and an 81-39 advantage in the House in addition to controlling the executive branch.
    "Democrats can say what they want," Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said Monday. "There are only so many ways you can milk this cow."
    Gov. Jeb Bush did not immediately return a call to comment on possible cuts to the two popular education incentives.
    Lawmakers expect budget deficits between $2 billion and $4 billion by the time the annual session convenes March 4. They are in Tallahassee this week for inaugural activities and committee meetings in preparation for the annual session.
    King said the scholarship program, paid for by lottery dollars, was not designed to do what it's doing: providing financial aid to more than 95 percent of the students at the University of Florida and Florida State University.
    "I think it makes some sense if you reduce the number of people that are availing themselves of it," King said. "We're going to look at it."
    The Board of Education has proposed tuition increases up to 12.5 percent for the state's 11 colleges and universities. Critics say such an increase could bankrupt the Florida Prepaid College Plan, which lets parents of any income pay current tuition rates regardless of when their child is to begin college.
    About 25,000 new students received Bright Futures scholarships last year. Each scholarship is worth about $3,000. Under the task force's proposal, the payout on the most common scholarships would be reduced by about $400 a year.
    Florida's prepaid program is the largest in the nation with 736,000 contracts statewide. It has about $4 billion in assets.
    High school seniors must earn an SAT score of 1270 or an ACT score of 28 to qualify for a full Bright Futures scholarship to one of Florida's state universities. An SAT score of 970 and an ACT score of 20 are required for a partial scholarship.
    Democrats said they don't want the bar raised.
    "If you raise the standards too high . . . you're going to have people who lose hope," said Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach.

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