I knew that the qualifications for Bright Futures scholarships had gone up. Now I understand the impact. In order for the State to save money, the rich get richer. The Florida lottery supports these scholarships. While the revenue for the lottery is still increasing, the percentage allocated to education is decreasing. It would be interesting to know why and how much.
Bright Futures include three lottery funded scholarship programs: Florida Academic Scholars, Florida Medallion Scholars, and Gold Seal Scholars. The differences among them are based on ACT or SAT test scores and high school grades in core college prep courses. Academic Scholars meet the highest standards and receive the most money per student. Florida Medallion awards go to students with scores about 100 points lower on the SAT or the equivalent on the ACT. Gold Seal awards are directed to students interested in vocational programs; they receive the lowest funding.
Who are these students?
- 61% white, 6% black, 24% Hispanic
- 86% attend public universities, 10% private and 4% community colleges
- one-third of scholarships are awarded to families with incomes over $100,000.
The number of students who qualify for Bright Futures has more than doubled since 1997. In order to control costs, the legislature raised standards. In 2011, required SAT scores rose from 970 to 1170 and ACT scores rose from 20 to 26 for the Medallion group. The Academic Scholars standards increased by ten SAT points. Funding for Bright Futures from the lottery, however, decreased by $170 million.
At its peak, one in three qualified for Bright Futures but now it is projected to be one in eight. This is a cut of at least 20,000 students. The number of eligible students in 2015 is:
- Academic Scholars: 40,611 students at a cost of $105,104,468
- Medallion Scholars: 68,850 students at cost of $119,961,179
- Gold Seal Scholars: 1,341 students at a cost of $1,221,625
By 2017, the decline in awards is projected to be fifty-two percent. Florida Medallion Scholar eligibility fell from 20,359 to 12,628 under new requirements. Sixty two percent of black students would lose eligibility. Given that test scores and family income are highly correlated, for each increase in family income categories there is a 12 point increase in scores, students with lower scores from lower income families will disproportionately lose eligibility.
What is proposed to help college bound students? In a Sun Sentinel article, incoming Florida Senate leader, Joe Negron, was quoted as recommending more need based financial aid and more test prep classes! Legislators favor holding down college tuition, but of course living expenses are equally high. Senator Negron has placed a high priority on support for higher education, but it is not clear what support there will be for higher education students.
While all of these changes have been occurring, the federal government has been investigating the Bright Futures program for civil rights violations. Is it fair to reward those who are white and wealthy with scholarships largely funded by low income and minority citizens who buy lottery tickets? They certainly are not winning on this program.