Putting Education Reform To The Test

Five Questions About Bright Futures Changes Answered

Yesterday’s story about a new requirement for the Florida Lottery-funded Bright Futures scholarship prompted a number of questions from readers, including how an illegal alien could get a scholarship in the first place?

Here are answers to some of those questions.

What has changed?

The new law changes two requirements for Bright Futures. First, students must now fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form, which can be a tedious task asking parents to submit their detailed financial information. The most common way to submit the form is online, and to do so requires a valid Social Security number.

The second change is that students must fill out the FAFSA every year in order to obtain their Bright Futures. In the past, students only had to prove their residency when the state initially awarded the scholarship, and then it was renewed if the students maintained their grades.

Why do the changes matter?

Many undocumented students do not have a Social Security number and can not submit the FAFSA form online. Children of illegal immigrants — some of whom are citizens of the U.S. — may not be able to use their parents financial information to submit a FAFSA form.

For some immigrants, their status can change from one year to the next as they work their way through the citizenship or asylum process. The new annual check would pick up students who may have initially been eligible for the scholarship but then became ineligible because their asylum request was denied or they did not complete the citizenship process.

Who is affected?

Undocumented students told us a number of ways they obtained a Bright Futures scholarship, with most of them losing their eligibility later.

One student had applied for asylum and was issued a temporary Social Security number and used the number to obtain a Bright Futures scholarship. That Social Security number has since expired and the scholarship has lost the scholarship. Another student had applied for citizenship but had yet to be accepted or denied. The college granted the Bright Futures scholarship in the interim, though the student still has yet to receive an answer about his citizenship.

Children, even if they are citizens, of illegal immigrants are also affected. One student quoted in the story told us about concerns she had about filling out the FAFSA form, and whether it would alert authorities that her father was an illegal alien.

Were these students breaking the law?

The students StateImpact Florida interviewed all could provide the needed documents at the time they were approved for Bright Futures before later losing their eligibility. The annual FAFSA requirement will make it less likely students who can no longer prove their residency could keep the scholarship.

Some of the students interviewed are in the country illegally.

Why not report them to police?

StateImpact Florida had to promise to protect the identity of the students interviewed in exchange for them candidly discussing how they received a Bright Futures scholarship. We felt the story was important enough to justify granting anonymity. As the story noted, lawmakers have made it more difficult for illegal immigrant students to receive Bright Futures — even if inadvertently — by requiring the annual FAFSA application.

What is your reaction? How should state leaders respond?


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