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News Clips 04/17/2013
EDITORIAL: State Scholarships: Dim Future for Florida Students
Source: Lakeland Ledger, 04/17/13
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A fundamental problem with Florida's popular Bright Futures college-scholarship program demands the attention of state legislators.
Since its inception, the program has been in conflict over the question of whether it should be based on need or merit.
The issue has become more pressing as growing demand and increasing costs are forcing changes.
Rather than make any dramatic changes that ensure the program helps students who truly need it, legislators have slowly increased academic standards for the scholarships in recent years.
Students have been like frogs in a pot of water, with the temperature slowly increasing so they don't realize that they're being boiled.
Many students will reach the boiling point July 1. That's when new guidelines take effect that will disproportionately hurt minority and lower-income students at state colleges and universities.
More than two-thirds of black and Hispanic underclassmen at the University of Florida who now receive Bright Futures scholarships wouldn't have gotten them under the new guidelines, according to an analysis by the University of South Florida.
In the home county of the University of Florida — Alachua — the percentage of high school seniors receiving Bright Futures will drop by 63 percent under the new guidelines. Low- and middle-income students will feel the brunt of the changes unless action is taken.
Basing requirements in large part on standardized tests would mean that groups that score poorly on those tests, such as low-income minority and rural white students, lose out.
The changes will further benefit students whose families can afford college without the help. As it stands, more than 31 percent of Bright Futures recipients in the 2011-2012 academic year reported family or personal incomes exceeding $100,000.
The right solution would be to fund the program so that all who perform well in high school qualify, which was the original proposition broadly.
The problem, and the political impediment of the moment, is that an effort to cut the state's income through a series of revenue-reduction loopholes benefiting business primarily is unlikely to be reversed soon, no matter that proposition's merit. In the meantime, a choice needs to be made.
One state lawmaker said that it's political heresy, but the state can either make the scholarships "a number that gets so small that it becomes insignificant to everybody who gets it, or we can target it to the people who need it the most."
That lawmaker? House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. He should lead the charge.