20 Aug 2014
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Changes Coming to Bright Futures Scholarships?

Clearwater residents counting on this state program to help fund college dreams might find the rules of the game changing soon.

Changes Coming to Bright Futures Scholarships?

Florida high school students who have been hitting the books in hopes of getting a full four-year ride to college courtesy of the state may soon discover they need to do more to qualify for a Bright Futures Scholarship.

The state’s lottery-funded tuition program is entering troubled financial waters and some say it’s time to change the rules of the game.

“There’s more money going out than going in,” explained Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz. Legg chairs his chamber’s education committee and sits on the education appropriations subcommittee.

“Lottery revenues are increasing by about 4 percent a year,” said Legg. The problem is the money going out to Bright Futures awardees is increasing at a rate of about 13 to 14 percent a year, he added.

“It’s not going to be able to sustain itself much longer.”

Bright Futures was established in 1997 to create a merit-based scholarship program that would use lottery money two fund two main programs, according to an article in The Tampa Tribune. The first program, Academic Scholars, provides a four-year ride to the state’s highest achieving students. The second program, Medallion Scholars, pays 75 percent of tuition costs.

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Changes on the Horizon

While major changes to Bright Futures are not expected right away, some new eligibility requirements will kick in this fall.

The Tribune, reports that minimum SAT requirements for the full-ride scholarship will rise from 1270 to 1280. ACT test scores are not impacted.

Other changes in score requirements are also planned in the coming years.

Those changes, it is hoped, will reduce the number of students eligible for the scholarships, but it is unclear by how much.

What the Future Holds

Increases in testing score thresholds should help, but Legg said more action is likely needed in the coming years to shore up the scholarship fund.

“I don’t see a willingness to put money out of general revenue,” he said. “Probably what you’re going to see is a restructuring of eligibility in the Bright Futures program.”

Legg said he’s not advocating any particular change at this point, but others are tossing around such ideas as:

  • Adding a needs-based component instead of keeping Bright Futures as solely merit-based
  • Creating a stair step program in which students at the lowest level of eligibility (the ones with the lowest scores) would be provided funding for an associate’s degree first and then a bachelor’s if they continue to meet eligibility requirements and complete the first degree
  • Raising standards for eligibility even more

“It’s a program that’s expensive,” Legg said.

What This Means for Clearwater Students?

Nothing just yet, Legg said.

“I don’t anticipate those changes occurring this session (which starts in March),” Legg said.

Even so, parents and students might want to prepare for a future Bright Futures that is different.

Since its inception, Bright Futures has given out about $3.9 billion to an estimated 1.9 million students, according to The Tribune.

For more information on the scholarship program, visit the Florida Department of Education online.

Are your kids counting on Bright Futures to get through college? How would you fund education if this program’s requirements change? Share your stories in the comments section.

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