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Short of funds, Florida Senate looks at making Bright Futures scholarship harder to get and keep

TALLAHASSEE — Getting — and keeping — the popular Bright Futures scholarship might be more difficult if a proposal made Tuesday in a Senate budget committee wins favor.

The proposed overhaul of the program includes raising the SAT requirements by up to 80 points, reducing the time a student has to use the money and restricting funding to only classes the student needs to graduate.

Almost 185,000 students currently use the scholarship, which can cover nearly the entire tuition bill if students meet certain grade requirements. More than 95 percent of students at the University of Florida use Bright Futures, as do most of those studying at Florida State.

The changes would make the scholarship more competitive and leave less wiggle room for students who want to take extra classes, said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, a Republican from Ormond Beach and head of the Senate's budget committee.

"If you are a meritorious student, we'd like to see that you follow through and get finished," Lynn said. "Bright Futures is supposed to be for students who really work hard and get moving."

In addition, students would not receive more scholarship money next year, even though tuition could rise 15 percent.

Lynn acknowledged that the changes seem "severe'' but could be necessary to save the program, which is facing a $6 million deficit. The changes worried some lawmakers, who warned that they could reduce access by minorities and students with struggling families and finances.

"I'm not sure the juice is worth the squeeze," said Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach.

"There are some students, like at Miami-Dade College, who are part-time students," said Gelber, speaking about a provision that would mandate the scholarship last for only four years. "Some people simply can't do it in four years if they have a family or other issues."

While the Senate's budget team is considering a complete overhaul, the head of the House's budget committee made a simpler but also significant change: a 6 percent cut in funding.

That would mean up to $450 less for each Bright Futures student next year.

Both recommendations show just how much Bright Futures has fallen. Funded by sagging lottery sales, the scholarship fund once considered a political sacred cow faces a grim reality. "We just don't have the money," said Rep. William Proctor, the St. Augustine Republican who heads the House's higher education budget committee.

His committee has designated $393 million for the fund, while the Senate committee has put a $450 million price tag on it.

Short of funds, Florida Senate looks at making Bright Futures scholarship harder to get and keep 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:02pm]
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