Future far from bright for Blacks

caines | 4/11/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Blacks could see 75 percent drop in Bright Futures scholarships Sometimes the decisions that the Florida Legislature makes quietly become law and then change our lives in surreptitious, less obvious ways. But other times there are laws enacted that impact both present and future generations in profound, life-altering ways. Such is the case in a 2011 decision made in Tallahassee that hiked the SAT/ACT test score requirements for Bright Futures scholarships. But as the effective date of those changes looms near, a University of South Florida [USF] report indicates that poor and minority students, particularly in Miami-Dade County, will suffer the most. When Floridas Bright Futures program was launched in 1997, its goal was to encourage student achievement and to persuade promising students to attend college in the state. The scholarships are funded by state lottery games, which according to most data, are more likely to be played by those who are poor, uneducated or minority. However, as the report compiled by USF administrator J. Robert Spatig shows, the recipients of the awards even under its current rules are more likely to come from upper-income, college-educated white households. Legislators say they had no choice but to raise the requirements due to budget constraints, adding that they had to reduce the number of scholarships that would be awarded each year. Florida students and their families are bracing for changes that go into effect beginning July 1, 2013. Other changes will be phased in over a two-year period. Spatig highlights several consequences that will make it even more difficult for Black, Hispanic or poor students to pursue their dreams of higher education.

Key report findings

* The total number of college freshmen receiving scholarships would drop from 30,954 to 15,711, a decrease of about 50 percent. * Black scholarship recipients would plummet by more than 75 percent; Hispanics would see a 60 percent decrease. * Miami-Dade County would be impacted the most from the changes with scholarship recipients dropping by close to 64 percent. Broward County would see a decrease of 55 percent. * Among middle-class students who are financially ineligible for federal Pell Grants but still often struggle to pay for college, 50 percent would qualify for the new Bright Futures. Sixty percent of wealthy students would continue to qualify.

Will Black outrage matter?

The report makes it plain that those who voted on these changes intend to yank education out of the grass from those who need it most, said Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, M-DCPS school board member. This is another civil rights issue that must be fought and we will. We cannot sleep on it. I look at it as a dream destroyer. We must make sure that students that qualify for Bright Futures today qualify for it tomorrow. Its grossly unfair they keep moving the goal post for children who have already reached it. They want them to grovel and slip backwards. No. We are going to fight for our children. Recently-elected president of the United Teachers of Dade, Federick Ingram, voiced similar sentiments. Tallahassee tends to look at our students as numbers and seem to ignore the fact that Bright Futures is one avenue by which minorities, particularly Blacks, are able to go to college, he said. When you start taking away the different avenues that will give students to have the opportunities that theyve worked hard to earn, its just not fair. These students have done everything weve asked of them but they dont have the money to attend college. Our legislature continues to do the wrong things. We must get our community involved have them call or write the chairman of the Dade delegation [Eduardo Gonzalez, eddy.gonzalez@myfloridahouse.gov., 305-364-3066] and voice their concerns. Members of the Legislature say they rarely hear from our community and therefore assume that we are pleased with the decisions theyre making on our behalf. Its unfortunate that the Legislature would stoop so low as to reduce the opportunity for attending college for those that need it the most, said Dr. Wilbert T. Holloway, M-DCPS school board member. I am opposed to using any one source of data [ACT or SAT scores] as the means of determining eligibility. Some students dont test well but their grades confirm that they have the ability and endurance needed to move on to higher education. GPAs should be thrown into the pot and financial need as well, to determine if a student qualifies.