State Politics

Senate bill restricts Bright Futures

MANATEE — The state Senate this week voted to impose new restrictions on Bright Futures scholarships, which last year helped almost 170,000 students statewide, and at least 1,400 locally.

Under Senate Bill 1344 passed Wednesday, applicants for the scholarships would face more stringent academic eligibility requirements, along with restrictions on the length of time they could use the scholarship money.

“I think what we’re trying to do in the least complicated way, and the way that will least affect students, is to save money now so we can get through the next two difficult years,” Senate sponsor Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, chair of the Committee on Higher Education Appropriations, said Thursday.

“Our projections show our income will still be low; we’re trying everything we can to save Bright Futures,” she said.

Under the measure:

n In order to qualify as a Florida Academic Scholar — the highest Bright Futures award — a high school student graduating in the 2012-13 school year would need SAT scores of at least 1280, up from 1270 currently required; in 2013-14, the necessary score on the college admission exam would be at least 1290, according to an analysis of the bill prepared by Senate staff.

n Applicants would only be able to use the scholarship over a four-year period, rather than over seven years, in an effort to encourage them to finish quickly, the analysis said.

n Applicants also would have to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, listing comprehensive financial information, in order to receive Bright Futures money, the analysis said.

n Bright Futures recipients who graduate with a baccalaureate degree in seven semesters, or its equivalent in credit hours, could apply the unused portion of their scholarship toward a semester of graduate study, with some limitations, the analysis said.

In 2008-09, the popular scholarship program supported by lottery proceeds provided $429,012,109.22 to students attending colleges and universities across the state, according to records from the Florida Department of Education.

Its recipients are an important asset for colleges that maintain campuses in Manatee County , which attracted 15,380 Bright Futures scholars and $41,819,810.48 in award money from the program in 2008-09, state records show.

State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota attracted 1,421 Bright Futures scholars and $2,629,889.92 in award money to its three campuses in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Venice in 2008-09; and Bradenton’s Manatee Technical Institute attracted 29 students with $32,130.53 in scholarship money, records show. Individual figures for USF Sarasota-Manatee were unavailable.

Donald Bowman, SCF’s vice president of educational and student services, said the proposal’s intent appeared “to make this a bit more exclusive of a scholarship.”

“We’re very honored and pleased that so many students of that quality are choosing us for their college of choice,” he noted.

However, before any changes can go into effect, the House of Representatives will have to agree, and the measure will need the governor’s signature.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.