Cuts to Florida's scholarship program expected to affect large number of students

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — New rules will make it harder for high school students to qualify for Florida's Bright Futures Scholarship programs.

A new report says the number of eligible students will be cut by half, starting next year.
Winter Springs High School graduate Katie Laughman is now a college student. She said it is something she didn't think was possible as the daughter of a single mother.

"I had the full Bright Futures Scholarships and I wouldn't have been able to afford any of this at all," said Laughman.

But now the number of students who qualify for Bright Future Scholarship money is expected to drop by 50 percent statewide.

New changes significantly raise the program's minimum SAT and ACT score requirements, making it harder for college students starting in 2014 to get the scholarship cash.

"All school districts will see a significant drop in the number of students who qualify," said Dr. Michael Blasewitz of Seminole County Public Schools.

The Florida Lottery pays for the scholarship program. It costs about $300 million a year. The changes will save at least $50 million, according to officials.

But experts said those savings to the state will cause student debt to skyrocket. And they expect minorities, who statistically don't do as well on college entrance exams, to be hit hardest.

"Even for the average citizen trying to live the dream of sending their kids to college, it just becomes much more of a struggle," said Blasewitz.

A struggle that will only get harder as the price for higher education goes up.

"It will affect a lot of students like myself, if they don't get Bright Futures," said Laughman.

Currently, 90 percent of Seminole County students headed to a state university qualify for a Bright Futures Scholarship. That's expected to drop to below 60 percent.