Governor wants more from Bright Futures hopefuls

Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday morning described, as simply as he could, Florida’s budget problems.

“It’s like making sausage,” Bush said to a panel of university student body presidents at a meeting in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. “It’s ugly. But it gets pretty in the end.”

Among the ingredients of the “sausage” is the Florida Bright Futures scholarship, which stands to suffer from the proposed $111-million cut to higher education.

USF’s Student Government has rallied in Tallahassee and claims to have gathered more than 10,000 signed petitions calling for the preservation of Bright Futures, which is slotted to pay 125,000 Florida students a total of $233,500 this coming school year. The program is funded by the Florida Lottery.

Bush is proposing higher standards for the award. Specifically, graduates in the class of 2004 would need SAT scores of at least 1,050. The current requirement is 970.

Critics argue the new requirements could reduce by 30 percent the number of students, many minorities, who receive the scholarship.

Florida Atlantic University student body president Pablo Paez expressed his concern to the governor that Hispanic students from low-income families would suffer, as it would be more difficult for them to attend pricey SAT training classes or pay for PSAT pretests.

But Bush says a student’s economic background or skin color is no longer an excuse for poor performance in school.

“We’re shattering some myths, which is healthy — that kids of color or lower income cannot achieve compared to kids with other circumstances,” Bush said.

Bush said he will try to offset opponents’ concerns by making advanced placement classes more accessible to high school students and offering the PSAT for free.

The PSAT, Bush said, is an indicator, statistically, on how well schools do overall.

Schools, he said, where more students take the PSAT generally receive As and Bs, while schools with limited access score Ds and Fs.

“The answer is hard work in a policy that focuses on high expectations on every student,” he said.