Democratic State Sen. Dwight Bullard criticized Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature for approving cuts to the state’s popular Bright Futures scholarship program, saying fewer college students are eligible for benefits.
Appearing at a news conference Thursday in front of Miami Dade College’s downtown campus, Bullard said Scott and Republican lawmakers had slashed the Bright Futures budget from $309 million last year to $266 million this year.
Said Bullard: “What happened to Bright Futures?”
The remarks by the top Democrat in Tallahassee come the same week Scott is traveling the state touting his legislative success at keeping tuition rates low in Florida. Scott’s gubernatorial campaign also is airing a television ad that slams former Gov. Charlie Crist for allowing “college tuition to increase up to 15 percent every year.”
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The Legislature approved a bill this year that altered the so-called “differential tuition” law, which allowed 15 percent increases in tuition at state universities to be approved by the Board of Governors. Under the new law, only the University of Florida and Florida State University will qualify for the increases, which are capped at 6 percent a year.
Bright Future is a merit scholarship that provides Florida high school seniors with a scholarship to any public college or university. But fewer students are qualifying for the scholarship because lawmakers raised the requirements.
The program’s costs spiraled up from an initial price tag of $70 million in 1997 to $437 million in 2011. In 2010, Crist’s last year as governor, the Legislature reduced Bright Futures scholarships by $1 for every credit hour and raised SAT/ACT requirements. Under Scott, minimum SAT and ACT scores have also increased.
Bullard said “the students most impacted by these cuts are African Americans and Latinos.”
“We are here to say enough is enough,” he said.
The scholarship program has also garnered the attention of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible discrimination because of the impact on minority students.
Joining Bullard at the press conference was Juan Cuba, executive director of the Miami-Dade Democrats. He also condemned the changes to Bright Futures.
With an election year, Cuba said “Scott is doing his best to rewrite history,” and the Democrats “are not going to forget.”
“Under Scott, we will see a much bleaker future for students,” Cuba said.