One of the best things the 1997 Florida Legislature ever did was to enact the Bright Futures Scholarship program, funded by the Florida Lottery. It has helped keep the best and brightest of our graduating seniors in Florida.
It has also been a tremendous incentive for high school students to take the most difficult classes, do community service and keep their grades up. If you’ve ever had a teenager in your house or in your classroom, you know that you need every positive incentive you can get!
This scholarship program has made it possible for thousands of students to go to college, many of whom thought it was out of their reach. Talk about a great investment in Florida’s future.
I shook my head as I read James Hand-DeMaria’s letter to the editor decrying his — and others’ — lost chance at a Bright Future’s scholarship, because of his SAT score. Terri Gimbel, a guidance counselor in Leon County Schools for 29 years, told me that it is devastating to have to tell many of her students that despite their high grade point averages and community service, their test scores are no longer good enough to qualify.
What happened? Until 2007, Florida paid 100 percent of tuition, books and fees for the highest Academic Scholars award and 75 percent of tuition for the Medallion and Gold Seal (vocational) scholarships. It worked so well that the program went from awarding 43,000 scholarships in 1998 to 179,000 at its peak in 2011.
The cost went from $70 million to $423 million. To cut costs, the Legislature began paying for fewer classes, eliminated paying for books and fees, and decreased the award to approximately half of what it used to cover for our top students.
To cut costs even more, the 2011 Legislature quietly and significantly raised the SAT/ACT passing scores. Along with James, 25,000 fewer students received an award last year than in 2011.
For Academic Scholars, the SAT/ACT qualifying scores were raised slightly. But for the Medallion Scholarship, the Legislature increased the SAT qualifying score almost 200 points, from 980 to 1170. The ACT required score leaped from 21 to 26. These arehuge increases for students who typically don’t do as well on these tests, but formerly would have qualified for the Medallion or Gold Seal awards.
Perhaps the Florida Legislature should take note of the abundant research that is showing college success is not primarily a function of one’s SAT or ACT score. In fact, recent studies show that students who had low or modest test scores, but good high-school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades. This makes sense. The discipline and studying habits of students who get good grades in high school follow them into college.
When the Legislature reconvenes it should take a hard look at SB 1546, by Senator Flores and HB 1275, by Representative Nunez. Their bills provide a reasonable solution and are supported by research.
Let’s not dim our children’s futures. If money is that tight, they could consider giving the awards on a sliding scale, based on family income. With Florida’s $77 billion budget, how can we afford not to invest in our most precious resources — our kids!
Rosanne Wood is a retired Leon County Schools principal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.