Funding for Bright Futures continues to decline
Published: Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program for university and college students has been on the decline in recent years.
About Bright Futures
Bright Futures is Florida’s merit-based academic scholarship program for state university, college and vocational students. It is funded from proceeds from the Florida Lottery. Created in 1997, it reached a peak of 179,000 awards in 2010-11. It once had a budget of $429 million, reached in 2008-09.
An increase in academic standards has caused a sharp decline in Bright Future scholarships. Here are the total annual scholarships since the academic year starting in 2011.
2014: 127,573 (projected)
It’s tougher to qualify
The increase in academic standards for students qualifying for Bright Futures:
-- In 2008, students needed a 1270 SAT verbal and math score or a 28 on the ACT for the Academic Scholars award. This fall, they will need a 1290 SAT or a 29 ACT score.
-- In 2008, students needed a 970 SAT or a 20 ACT for a Medallion scholarship. This fall, they will need an 1170 SAT or a 26 ACT.
-- In 2008, one out of every three Florida high school graduates received an initial Bright Futures award. For the coming academic year, just 12 percent of the graduates are projected to receive an initial award.
At its peak, the merit scholarship program — created in 1997 and funded from Florida Lottery proceeds — spent $429 million a year and provided financial support to 179,000 students attending universities, state colleges and vocational centers.
But as state lawmakers begin their final negotiations on a new budget, the Senate has proposed a $291 million Bright Futures program for the academic year that begins in the fall, with the House at $266 million.
Both numbers represent a drop from this year’s $309 million Bright Futures budget.
Lawmakers say they are not denying eligible students a scholarship. Economists project that fewer high school students are qualifying for the awards. The reason: the Legislature’s long-term decision to raise the academic standards for qualifying.
Academic standards will rise again this fall, with students qualifying for the Medallion scholarships under Bright Futures required to have an 1170 on their SAT verbal and math scores — up from the current 1020. For those taking the ACT, minimum scores for Medallion scholarship recipients will rise from 22 to 26.
Students qualifying as Academic Scholars — Bright Futures’ top award — will have to produce a 1290 SAT score this fall — up from 1280. For those taking the ACT, they must have a 29 score — up from 28.
This fall marks the culmination of a multi-year plan by lawmakers to raise the Bright Futures standards, which once were as low as a 970 SAT score or a 20 ACT score for the Medallion award.
The impact will cut significantly the number of Bright Futures scholars. The total scholarships will drop by 17 percent in the new year, based on estimates last month from state economists showing 127,573 students will have the scholarships in 2014-15, down from this year’s 154,160.
By fall 2017, the decrease would be even more dramatic, with the total number dropping by more than 70,000 scholarships to 83,581, or a 46 percent decline compared with this academic year.
The Senate plan will boost Bright Futures in one way by raising the award amount — basically the difference between the Senate’s $291 million Bright Futures program versus the House’s $266 million.
Under the Senate plan, Academic Scholars would receive $113 per credit hour at state universities — up from the current $103, while Medallion Scholars would get $84 at universities — up from $77. The House plan maintains the current per-credit-hour amounts.
Both the House and Senate higher education budgets boost need-based aid for Florida students. One of the biggest criticisms of Florida’s Bright Futures program is that the state spends too much on merit aid — which can go to students in wealthy families as well as poor families — and too little on need-based aid.
The Senate budget will increase the main need-based program, called Florida Student Access Grants, by 18 percent to a total of $166 million in the coming year. The House is just under that at $153 million in need-based aid.
But there is another way of looking at the decline in the Bright Futures program. It’s by assessing the number of incoming university and college freshmen who will qualify for the award versus the overall number of Florida high school graduates.
And those numbers are troubling for House Democratic leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, who cited the Bright Futures drop as one of the reason why he voted against the House budget plan earlier this month.
“In 2008, one in three students qualified for some financial aid and the opportunity to go to a better school,” Thurston, who is running for attorney general this fall, said in a statement this past week. “Now, it’s one in eight students. Under the current Republican budget in Tallahassee, only half as many students will be eligible for aid this year as last year.”
In the 2007-08 budget, the Department of Education reported 33 percent of the 155,000 high school graduates received an initial Bright Futures award.
In the next academic year, state economists project 12 percent of the 178,000 high school graduates will receive an initial Bright Futures award. The initial awards will drop from 41,000 this year to 21,000 in 2014-15, a 48 percent year-to-year drop.
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