On Friday, Republicans in both houses of the Florida Legislature filed plans to modify the eligibility for Bright Futures scholarships by establishing a five-level system that relies heavily on SAT and ACT scores to decide the size of the Bright Futures award. The bills also propose to reverse last year’s budget-driven decision to leave the amounts of individual awards constant and not cover tuition increases. This latter provision could allow the explosive budget-busting growth in the Bright Futures program to resume.
The bills, filed by Senator Baker (SB 2642) and Representative Tobia (HB 1415), would establish five levels of Bright Futures scholarships. A Level 1 award would provide tuition and fees for a community college. Levels 2, 3, 4 and 5 would provide 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of the tuition and fees at a state university, respectively. The awards for Levels 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 would require minimum SAT scores of 970, 1100, 1200, 1300 and 1400, respectively. Completion of an IB or AICE diploma would automatically make a student eligible for a Level 4 award, regardless of the student’s SAT score. No similar exemption from the SAT requirement is proposed for students with substantial numbers of Advanced Placement credits. Recognition by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation or the National Hispanic Recognition Program would also automatically qualify a student for a Level 4 scholarship.
While the 2009 Legislature excluded differential tuition (the 15% annual tuition increases that can be implemented at the discretion of each university) from Bright Futures awards, the Baker-Tobia bills would require the Bright Futures program to take differential tuition into account when calculating awards. The exclusion of differential tuition was implemented last year to stop the explosive growth of the Bright Futures budget. The Baker-Tobia differential tuition language would allow the explosive growth rate to resume, even though the definition of the new levels would probably reset the program at a lower initial funding point.
The use of SAT and ACT scores in setting Bright Futures eligibility is problematic because of the racial and socioeconomic biases inherent in these exams. The lack of an SAT/ACT exemption for students not attending an IB or AICE school – even if they accumulate large numbers of Advanced Placement credits – may prove to be an issue as well.
The white paper assembled by 90 science faculty from colleges and universities throughout Florida proposed that high school students be incentivized to become STEM-ready via the implementation of a four-science course requirement for Bright Futures eligibility. This was cited in the “Ideas in Action” essay “Preparing Florida’s Students to Close the Talent Gap for an Innovation Economy,” which was recently released by Florida TaxWatch. The Baker-Tobia proposal does not have any component that encourages high school students to prepare for undergraduate programs in science and engineering. The language in the “Ideas in Action” essay is:
Require four science courses, including at least one each in biology, chemistry, Earth/space science and physics, for Bright Futures eligibility. Our best and brightest students – our Bright Futures recipients – should all be prepared for leadership roles in our technological society. In addition, they should all have the basic tools required to pursue undergraduate programs in science and engineering so that they have the fewest possible obstacles to choosing a career in one of these areas. It should be noted that this proposal is budget-friendly – it will likely limit the growth of the Bright Futures program. A four science course requirement for Bright Futures eligibility is not onerous – our neighboring states of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi require four science courses for all of their high school graduates.