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Bright Futures could take new role

New proposals for the Bright Futures program could come at a cost to Florida universities.

A draft submitted by the Higher Education Finance Proposal Committee in the Legislative Session requests Bright Futures to be “decoupled” from tuition by 2007.

That would restructure the scholarship, which pays 75 to 100 percent of in-state tuition, to be set at a constant dollar amount, said Kathy Betancourt, associate vice president for government relations at USF.

“Decoupled puts a little bit of control on the cost,” Betancourt said. “Now is the time to get some terms on what the Bright Futures may cost.”

If the scholarship were decoupled, recipients would have to pick up the extra cost for tuition increases and fees.

“It looks pretty difficult to deal with in the future,” Betancourt said.

But because the change may not occur for another four years, Betancourt said this would give universities time to adjust to the new goals for Bright Futures, if they are adopted by legislators.

In addition, Betancourt said the proposal suggests that Bright Futures be changed from a grant to a subsidy, thus making universities responsible for soaking up funding shortages.

USF, which could suffer a $31-million budget cut, may also lose the chance to receive a share from $53 million that has been set aside for state enhancement projects.

Last week, Sen. Ken Pruitt from Port St. Lucie showed legislators a list of growth-related issues on which the money could be spent, such as university enrollment growth, class size reduction and new K-12 students.

However, Betancourt said the money reserved from tax collections is too small to be matched with the state’s needs, and there is no plan to distribute the funds to a single growth program.

Pruitt could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

With two weeks left in the legislative session, the House and Senate have yet to develop a budget. Betancourt said until then, legislators only have the governor’s budget proposal to consider.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor 0at USF, said it is not unusual that neither the House nor Senate has not presented a proposal because representatives in each party will have a difficult time reaching an agreement.

This doesn’t mean that the House or Senate hasn’t made any drafts yet, since the budget process usually requires federal requirements, such as contracts, to be handled first.

“They may not even get one during the regular session, and they might have to go into special session,” MacManus said. “(But) I don’t know that they will face that.”