Miami-Dade School Board fights changes to Bright Futures scholarships

With efforts to halt an increase in Florida Bright Futures scholarship requirements all but dead in Tallahassee, opponents who fear the changes will disproportionately harm minority students are changing tact.

That includes the Miami-Dade school district, where the impact would be greatest. The School Board took up the issue Wednesday.

Starting next year, Florida students will need to post higher scores on the SAT and ACT to qualify for the lottery-funded scholarships. The change, part of a strategy to reduce costs by reducing the number of scholarships, is likely to cause the number of college freshmen receiving Bright Futures awards to drop dramatically. Universities say poor and minority students would be affected disproportionately.

Bills seeking to halt the changes have been filed in the House and Senate, but neither has gained traction and neither bill’s sponsor has much hope that will change. With only two weeks left in the legislative session, “It’s pretty much dead,” said Rep. Ricardo Rangel.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, however, hopes she can still get the state to study the consequences of the changes, and possibly create a different outcome.

“I haven’t given up,” she said.

And neither has the Miami-Dade School Board.

Board members approved a proposal by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to try and “mitigate the impact” of the criteria changes, which kick in this July. The GPA needed to obtain a scholarship would remain at 3.0, but minimum ACT scores would go from 21 to 22, and minimum SAT scores would jump from 980 now to 1020. The minimum scores would jump again in 2014.

A recent analysis by a University of South Florida administrator shows that black and Hispanic students would likely be disproportionately affected by the changes. The study said Miami-Dade would take the biggest hit, with scholarship recipients dropping by almost 64 percent.

Carvalho, whose proposal originally called to “reverse” the changes, instead advocated Wednesday pushing for a state study, such as the one proposed by Thompson, and a midpoint between the current standards and those kicking in this summer. That could mean increasing criteria for grade point average instead of scores on the SAT and ACT.

“We recognize that perhaps it is time for eligibility criteria to increase,” he said. “However, we’re concerned over the jump, the difference between where we stand today and where increase will take us.”

The district doesn’t have much time left to push that agenda. Additionally, the changes to Bright Futures criteria are expected to save millions that have been budgeted by the House and Senate.

Said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, assistant superintendent in charge of legislative issues: “It’s an uphill battle.”

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