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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate: More for colleges than House, but big Bright Futures changes



The Senate's higher education proposal for the coming year is some $373 million more than what the House budget committee unveiled last week, but the most notable part of the Senate proposal is the suggested overhaul for Bright Futures, the popular merit scholarship program that -- until recently -- lawmakers have been reluctant to touch.

The Senate proposal (foreshadowed in a meeting last month) not only caps the tuition at current-year levels (even though tuition is likely to go up by as much as 15 percent for universities next year.) It also:

  • Raises the GPA and SAT requirements.
  • Shrinks from 7 years to 4 years the time in which students have to get their tuition covered.
  • Shrinks the maximum number of credits covered by Bright Futures from 110 percent of the number required for a degree to 100 percent.
  • Removes the provision that students who lose their eligibility because of a low college GPA can get the scholarship back. Once you lose it, you would be out of luck for the rest of college.
  • Requires Bright Futures students to fill out a financial disclosure form -- suggesting lawmakers are moving toward turning it from a merit program to a need-based program.

To get a full Bright Futures, students now need a 3.5 high school GPA and a 1270 SAT or 28 ACT. Under the proposal, 2012-13 high school grads would need a 1280 SAT or 28 ACT. Grads in 2013-14 would need a 1290 SAT or 29 ACT.

The 75 percent Bright Futures award now requires a 3.0 high school GPA and a 970 SAT or 20 ACT. The Senate proposes raising that starting with 2011-12 grads, who would need a 980 SAT or 21 ACT. The next year's grads would need a 1020 SAT or 22 ACT, and the 2013-14 grads would need a 1050 SAT or 23 ACT.

The House so far has not proposed an overhaul, and dramatically changing such a sacred political cow in an election year might not be what lawmakers want. Senate budget committee chair Evelyn Lynn conceded the changes are significant, but she said they are unavoidable given the rising cost of Bright Futures. Already this year, the state is facing a $6 million Bright Futures deficit thanks to growing enrollment and lower than expected Lottery sales.

The changes would save the state $130 million to $150 million a year when fully implemented in 2017-18.

"If we don't do something we'll have to eliminate it altogether, and I don't think anyone wants to do that," said Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. "If you are a meritorious student, we'd like to see that you follow through and get finished. Bright Futures is supposed to be for students who really work hard and get moving."

But Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said the changes would unfairly hurt working students and non-traditional students who are juggling families and finances.

"There are some students like at Miami-Dade college who are part-time students," Gelber said. "Some people simply can't do it in four years if they have a family or other issues."

The Senate's proposed budget calls for a total of $450 million for Bright Futures, or $31.4 million more than the current year. But that hike covers growing student enrollment in the program, and $73 million of the Bright Futures pot would come from federal stimulus.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:29pm]


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