Editorial: A ‘bright future’ lays ahead if legislators take action

The future no longer seems dim for the Bright Future scholarships program.

The lottery-funded program has been the topic of criticism for quite some time, especially after September’s announcement that it was financially unstable.

As the economy worsened, lottery ticket sales declined and, with them, the funds for the scholarship, sending lawmakers into a panic when they had to dip into reserves to make up for the shortfall.

Since then, more and more lawmakers have joined those who question the program’s effectiveness.

Compounding the problem, Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he would allow a tuition increase of up to 15 percent for all 11 state universities. This means higher bills for Bright Futures to pay while its coffers become all the leaner, prompting the Legislature to revisit considerations of revamping the program.

Unfortunately, the Tallahassee Democrat reported that the Board of Governors removed Bright Futures as a topic from its next legislative session.

This is not the time for administrative foot-dragging. Higher education is in financial trouble and so is Bright Futures. If the BOG chooses not to confront this issue, lawmakers should.

The Legislature and BOG have long been at odds over who should have the authority to set tuition. To strengthen the BOG’s argument for control of such funding, it should be willing to aggressively pursue an issue so closely tied — or, more appropriately, anchored — to tuition rates.

The Democrat reported that 43 percent of Florida students receive at least 75 percent or more of the scholarship. Both students and institutions lose if no decision is made because, like any ailment left untreated, the problem won’t go away. It will only fester until it cannot be ignored any longer.

The fact that some are considering changing the requirements, however, is a step in the right direction.

The scholarship was designed to help Florida’s brightest students, and the program has succeeded on that count. But it was also supposed to increase its requirements incrementally over the years, keeping up with increases in state standardized test scores and GPA averages.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t done that. The requirements set in place at the program’s start a decade ago haven’t changed, in effect widening the pool of potential recipients.

The responsibility of offering affordable tuition — not free tuition — is the state’s. The responsibility of paying for tuition, however, belongs to parents and the students who wish to pursue higher education. Those looking for scholastic awards should be required to earn them.