Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald announced that the US Department of Education had reopened an investigation into the State of Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program. The investigation, triggered by a complaint filed 12 years ago, is examining allegations that the state’s eligibility criteria for the scholarship could potentially be “discriminating against Latino and African-American students on the basis of national origin and race.”
Funded by Florida Lottery revenue, the highly popular program has awarded more than $4 billion in scholarships since it started in 1997. In 2011, Florida legislators enacted a new law that increased the test score requirements for high school students graduating in 2013-14. The increase for Florida Academic Scholars was marginal, up from 1070 on the SAT or 28 on the ACT to 1290 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT. The more common scholarship level, Florida Medallion Scholars, experienced much more dramatic increases with SAT requirements leaping up from 980 in 2011-12 to 1170 by 2013-14 and ACT requirements increasing from 21 to 26. A number of students, families and organizations have spoken out against these changes, pointing out that they will exclude a growing number of low-income and minority families who lack access to expensive test prep tutoring and other resources geared toward improving performance on admission’s tests.
Last year, the Florida College Access Network publicized an internal analysis conducted by the admissions department at the University of South Florida demonstrating that new criteria would result in drastic cuts in the number of Latino and African-American students who qualify for Bright Futures scholarships.