Bright Futures money is being targeted again, this time by a government watchdog group that says the state should raise requirements for the merit-based scholarship program.
The lottery revenues which fund the scholarships aren’t stretching as far as they used to.
Lawmakers made changes to the Bright Futures program in recent years, as more college students are qualifying for the scholarships.
Now, Florida Taxwatch has released its annual list of recommended cost savings for the Legislature. The 25 recommendations add up to a potential savings of over $1 billion for the state.
The only item listed under “Education Reform” is Bright Futures.
The expense of the program has climbed exponentially, starting at $70 million in 1997.
It reached a record high total cost of $429 million in the 2008-09 academic year. Three tiers of scholarships are awarded.
In 1998, 30 percent of public and private high school graduates were eligible for Bright Futures. The percentage of students eligible peaked at 39 percent in 2008. Last year 37 percent of Florida high school graduates were eligible for Bright Futures.
Taxwatch’s recommendation: Improve the Bright Futures Scholarship program eligibility requirements to focus on the top high school graduates and to focus taxpayer investments on those students who pursue STEM degrees.
- Increase the grade-related eligibility requirements – Awards should be given only to students in the top percentile of their high schools based on their grade point average (GPA). Eligibility requirements have already been raised for standardized test scores. Estimated savings: $7.5 to $55.4 million.
- Limit the Florida Academic Scholars Award to only STEM Majors – Those employed in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) drive innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas, companies, and industries. Estimated savings: $3.5 million.
Previous changes suggested by Taxwatch resulted in legislative action to toughen eligibility requirements and shrink the payouts, but critics say Bright Futures will have to be revamped to remain sustainable.
For a summary of changes lawmakers have made to the program, click here.