A bill going through the Florida state Legislature amending Bright Futures scholarship requirements may disproportionately cut opportunities for minority students.
In 1997 Bright Futures cost $70 million, last year it cost $429 million. And in an effort to keep the program solvent, the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee passed Senate Bill 1344 in a Friday vote of 4-1.
The legislation would raise scholarship requirements for SAT scores.
By 2014, the requirements would increase 20 points to 1290 for the Academic Scholar award.
The legislation would add 80 points to the 1050 required for the Medallion Scholar award.
The higher score requirements would save the state an estimated $8 million in 2013 and $100 million by 2018, but 30 percent fewer students would qualify for scholarships, according to the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government.
The bill would have the largest effect on minority students.
Up to about 49 percent of African American students and 37 percent of Hispanic students who now qualify for Bright Futures would not qualify for the scholarship award in 2014 based on current test scores.
Democratic Sen. Dan Gelber, of Miami Gardens, was the only senator to vote against the bill.
“The economy has created a huge increase of Floridians who want higher education,” Gelber said. “I don’t think they should be stiff aimed.”
Gelber said the new rules were long-term changes for short-term budget problems, and instead of cutting the scholarship the state should consider closing tax loopholes.
“There are plenty of places we can go to find money, and I think the priority has to be education,” Gelber said.
In addition to tougher qualifications, the bill would limit the length of time students can use the scholarship from 7 years to 4 years.
It would also end scholarship restoration if a student loses it for academic reasons.
According to UF spokesman Steve Orlando, the proposed tougher Bright Futures requirements probably wouldn’t affect future UF students due to the fact that most UF students already have the higher SAT scores.
Currently 95 percent of freshman and 77 percent of all undergraduate students at UF have Bright Future scholarships, according to Orlando.
In addition to the scholarship changes, the bill also would allow UF to implement block differential tuition, which would charge full-time students the same tuition rate regardless of how many credits they enroll in .
According to Orlando, a block tuition rate would encourage students to graduate more quickly and increase revenue for the school.
The committee’s bill analysis estimated block tuition would generate more than $2 million in the first year of implementation.
The legislation must pass two more committees before coming to a full Senate vote.