Florida Students Face Higher Fees amid ‘Bright Futures’ Cuts

With a decrease in funding to the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, prospective college students may have to pay higher costs to attend college.

For the eighth consecutive time in Florida Lottery history, the organization has transferred more than $1 billion to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, according to the Florida Lottery website. EETF was designed to supplement the needs of the state’s public education system.

The lottery-funded Bright Futures Scholarship Program also reached a milestone by providing more than 53,000 new students with financial aid to pursue a post-secondary education. Despite increased assistance, the Florida Lottery’s contribution to Bright Futures has declined by $41 million in transferred funds to the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, according to Florida Department of Education officials. Deborah Higgins, Bright Futures information specialist with the Florida Department of Education, said funds have decreased because the Florida Legislature appropriated less funding for the program this year.

“The appropriation for 2011-12 year is a reduction over 2010-11 year by about $87 million,” said Higgins.

Funding from the Florida Lottery is also used to help school district projects for new construction, renovation, remodeling and major repair and maintenance of educational facilities.

Bright Futures was created in 1997 in an effort to keep the best and brightest Florida high school graduates in the state by offering them scholarships to postsecondary institutions in Florida.

For 13 years, the Florida Bright Futures Program has helped more than 500,000 students to receive scholarships worth $3.2 billion in total scholarship money allocated. According to the Florida Department of Education, during the 2009-10 school year, more than 177,000 Florida students were awarded a Bright Futures scholarship. The number equates to nearly 1 in 3 high school graduates enrolled in Florida’s private colleges, and universities and vocational schools. “I think our levels have been too low,” said Rep. Marlene O’Toole, a Republican who chairs the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “We may have to make some compromises.”

The 2,039,437 Florida voters who voted for the Article X, Section 15 of the Constitution of the State of Florida continue to see their vote in action, each year, as the funding is granted to the education system in Florida. In Leon County last year, K-12 graded received $3,996,178 in funding, community colleges received $3,370,451, and universities received $37,316,679 in funding, according to the annual Florida Lottery report.

“The award per credit hour to be funded was reduced, therefore eligible students will receive a lesser award per their enrollment,” said Higgins about the effects of funding cuts on the Florida Bright Futures program and on Florida students.

Overall, in Leon County, the Florida Lottery contributed $44,683,308 toward education. “It is awful and unfair that we are unable to receive our full scholarship due to new government cut backs,” said Andrew Turman, a fourth-year student from Orlando and Bright Futures scholarship recipient. “It made my parents and me pay more of my school fees out of pocket.”