Later today the GOP-controlled Legislature will have done something once unthinkable:
Rein in the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, the wildly popular scholarship program begun in 1997, that has continued to grow in the cost over the last dozen years. Between 2002 and 2008 alone the cost of Bright Futures - which provides anywhere from 75 percent to 100 percent - grew from $190 million to $383 million. In the last school year, nearly 160,000 students across the state received a Bright Futures scholarship. The great majority of these students were white and attended a 4-year state university. For example, nearly 27,000 recipients alone attended the University of Florida.
The House is expected to take up and send to Gov. Charlie Crist SB 762, the tuition differential bill that would allow Florida's 11 public universities to move tuition rates to the national average. The legislation mandates that part of the money goes to undergraduate education improvements, while some of it will be set aside for financial aid.
But the most important part of the bill may be that it exempts differential tuition rates from the Bright Futures scholarship program. Translation: As universities raise tuition rates, students will become responsible for paying the higher rates instead of the state picking up the tab.
Most of the discussion about this bill has centered around the potential for 15 percent a year tuition hikes, but a bigger impact from the legislation will be what it means for some Bright Futures recipients. The Senate analysis spells out in stark terms: By the start of the 2013 school year students attending the University of Florida, Florida State University, Florida International University, University of Central Florida and University of South Florida would be paying 45 percent of the cost of their education while those attending other schools would pay 41 percent.
The bill does not apply to any students who entered a university prior to July 2007 but it means that Florida Academic Scholars - those Bright Futures recipients who now get 100 percent (or close to it depending on which school they already attend) of their tuition and fees paid - will see the value of their scholarship decline by nearly half.
This is monumental given that Frank Brogan, now the president at Florida Atlantic and former Education Commissioner, and Sen. Ken Pruitt, the sponsor of this bill, were among those who vowed to never break the promise of Bright Futures. (And of course the irony here is that the scholarship program was begun as a way to blunt criticism that lottery revenues were not being used to enhance education.)