Putting Education Reform To The Test

Freshmen Combine Bright Futures Scholarships With Florida Prepaid College Plan


These kindergarten graduates may have their college paid for long before they leave high school.

The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program and the Florida Prepaid College Plan are not mutually exclusive.

But some people think they should be.

Woody Estep wishes he’d bought into the prepaid program. His son attends Florida State University, where his Bright Futures scholarship last year covered just a portion of the tuition and none of the fees.

Now, Estep’s son is working his way through school while friends enjoy the benefits of having a prepaid plan along with Bright Futures money.

The Bright Futures program is on shaky ground as more students qualify for scholarships and the state has less money to pay for them.

A student’s financial need is not considered. The awards are based solely on grades, scores on college admission tests, and community service.

“I’m not saying take it away from somebody who earned it,” said Estep. “But if they have a scholarship already, it seems to me at some point somebody shouldn’t be getting money back to go out to dinner or to go on spring break.”

Many students don’t need Bright Futures to attend college. The Florida Prepaid College Board says more than 1.4 million prepaid plans have been purchased since 1988.

Under the prepaid plan, families can lock in the cost of college now and pay in advance for kids who won’t graduate high school for another 18 years.

But students whose families chose the prepaid route may also earn money from Bright Futures.

There’s no indication the state will change the rule allowing prepaid students to take advantage of Bright Futures.

Nor should it, says Bob Sanchez of the James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan research group.

“You could argue that the prepaid program was a contract. They agreed to pay the money and they should not now have the football snatched away like Lucy in ‘Peanuts,’” said Sanchez. “They had the foresight to do that.”

The Bright Futures program has awarded more than $3.2 billion in scholarships over the last 15 years.

It’s funded in part by revenue from the Florida Lottery.

Lottery sales have been flat in recent years while college tuition has jumped.

Lawmakers made some changes to keep the program afloat. So far, they’ve chosen to continue awarding scholarships based only on merit.

A report this year by the James Madison Institute found that plenty of financial aid programs are available for those who need help with school.

Sanchez said the report offers a solution for rationing out the dwindling Bright Futures money.

“One way to do it would be to reward students who really try hard by raising the bar of eligibility rather than giving more students money that really doesn’t go far enough,” said Sanchez.

But others think Bright Futures would be much stronger if it had always taken into account a student’s financial need as well as academic success.

We’ll have more on the changes in Bright Futures Monday.


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