Fred Grimm

May 19, 2014

Fred Grimm: On cuts to Bright Futures program, Rubio should know better

You expect this stuff from the angry white guys who regularly fill newspaper e-mail boxes with their rants.

You expect this stuff from the angry white guys who regularly fill newspaper e-mail boxes with their rants.

Not from Sen. Marco Rubio, who ought to know better.

My column about the state legislature’s draconian cuts to the Bright Futures scholarship program brought a predictable response from someone named Vincent. “Enough already with the lowering of intellectual requirements in order to allow more Black and Hispanic students a college education. Where do you stop?”

I had written about the legislature's bothersome cuts to the Bright Futures budget, from $309 million last year to $266 million. (Down from $435 million in 2008.)

The diminished budget cut the number of incoming freshmen eligible for the merit scholarship in half by raising the program's SAT requirements, despite a 2013 study from the University of South Florida warning that a wildly disproportionate percentage of Hispanic and blacks students would be eliminated. So many that it prompted an investigation by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education.

On Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio joined the ranters. He wrote a letter to the Department of Education requesting that “you end your baseless investigation into the Florida Bright Futures scholarship program. This is a race-blind, merit-based program that supports Florida’s most promising students.”

Surely, a blunt policy change that eliminates 75 percent of black and 60 percent of Hispanic students from a state scholarship program merits, at least, an inquiry. But it is nearly astounding that this complaint come from Rubio, a former state legislator whose old Miami-Dade district will be so cruelly affected by the new policy.

Rubio occasionally teaches at Florida International University, where 75 percent of the students are Hispanic or black and where, at one time, 81 percent of the incoming freshmen qualified for tuition help from Bright Futures. The policy Professor Rubio defends will reduce FIU’s Bright Futures scholars to just 14 percent.

The senator suggests SAT scores are some blind signifier of scholarly merit, though the testing company's review of its own data in March indicated that family income was a major predictor of SAT outcomes.

Consider my own child. Through her middle school and high school career, if she faltered in math, we packed her off to a tutor. As her SAT test dates loomed, we enrolled her in three SAT prep courses.

It was a pricey endeavor, but nearly all my friends and colleagues, most of them middle class professionals, performed variations of the same exercise for their children.

Does Rubio (who surely doesn’t consider his own 2.1 high school GPA an accurate indicator of scholastic potential) really think that some Hialeah kid from a large, poor, English-as-a-second-language family was in a fair competition on SAT test day with my daughter and her friends?

Some 30 percent of the Bright Futures scholarship money was already going to families making at least $122,000. The new policy will send an even larger portion to families who need it least. With less for students who need it most -- the kids Marco Rubio seems to have forgotten.

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