#654. The end of "Hope" and "Bright Futures"

Hope and Bright Futures Scholarships are in trouble, thanks to the poor no longer funding them

No, these aren’t the campaign promises of Mein Obama crashing down to reality. They are the names of Georgia and Florida’s lottery-funded scholarship programs that are both in dire financial situations. With lottery revenue down — a sure sign that the depressed economy is denying Black people the opportunity for wealth creation — the Hope Scholarship is seriously underfunded. Bright Futures is in a similar predicament.

The Hope Scholarship has allowed students to go to college with tuition paid for thanks to the proclivities of the poor in Georgia who find the investments in lottery tickets the soundest long-term monetary decision:

…the program is funded through the Georgia Lottery, it represents an income transfer from the poor, who are more likely to play lottery games, to the well-off who are more likely to receive the scholarships. Neither of these issues will be analyzed in this report because both deserve extensive treatments in their own right. Instead, we will analyze the policy’s effect on the educational performance of students and their access to the University System of Georgia (USG).

With the onset of the recession, Georgia’s poor were unable to buy these tickets and the Hope Scholarship lost a large chunk of its funding. Now its minority students who are left in the cold, with increasing scholastic demands being required for acquiring a scholarship. The Atlanta Journal Constitution publishes a predictable sob story:

Some students fear they may be priced out of college. They are applying for jobs and reconsidering double majors and study abroad because of the cost. Parents are reviewing their finances to see what more they can contribute. Some have encouraged their children to take easier high school classes to boost their grades to a 3.7 grade-point average to qualify for a new full-tuition scholarship.

Georgia State University freshman Myeia Bautista was the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Even with HOPE, she works and took out loans. She doesn’t know how to pay for college with a smaller scholarship.

“I’m going to have to drop out,” she said. “I may just transfer to a technical college. It’s a lot cheaper, and I think I can afford that. But that’s not my dream.”

About 10 percent of HOPE recipients will qualify for a new full-tuition scholarship. To earn the Zell Miller Scholarship, students must be the high school valedictorian or salutatorian or graduate with at least a 3.7 GPA and a combined 1200 on the math and reading sections of the SAT.

Stephanie Kratofil’s daughter attends North Gwinnett High School and has earned a 3.9. She just registered for junior-year classes, and Kratofil tried to sway her from taking a college-level Advanced Placement English course out of fear her grades would drop. Her daughter disagreed but did decide against taking a gifted math class.

“I hate having to think this way, but what if her grades drop and she doesn’t get an A?” Kratofil said. “You want to push your child to succeed, but we also want to get that full scholarship.”

The Hope is gone for many of Georgia’s would-be college students.  For Floridians, the future isn’t so bright anymore:

At public universities, 88 percent of in-state freshmen qualify for the scholarships. At the University of Florida, it’s 98 percent, while the median household income for those students is $105,000. 

Studies, including one from Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project, have shown merit-based scholarships tend to most benefit middle- and high-income students who would have likely gone to college regardless of the aid. 

“We talk about areas to save money. This is one place we’re ripe for it in the next few years,” said Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, chairman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. 

The cost of the program has ballooned from $70 million when it began in 1997 to $437 million today. Some say that’s because the scholarship requirements are too low. 

Currently, to get money, students only need a 970 SAT score, which is below the national average. It will be raised to 980 next year and to 1050 by 2014. Some believe that’s still too low, as it puts students in the 56th percentile of SAT takers in the country. 

Bright Futures, which serves 181,000 students, is funded primarily by Florida Lottery. But last year, the Lottery’s $338 million allocation wasn’t enough to cover the growing number of eligible students, so the Legislature used $99 million in stimulus and other one-time dollars. 

The program has gone through a series of changes in the past two years. Its scholarship for A students with high SAT scores used to pay all tuition and fees, while students with a B average got 75 percent scholarships.
Now, they get a fixed dollar amount — $3,750 for top scholars taking 15 hours a semester, or about 76 percent of actual tuition and fees at state universities. The others get $2,820, or 57 percent of expenses. 

While the value of Bright Futures is falling, tuition at state universities is quickly rising. The Legislature authorized public universities in 2009 to raise tuition by up to 15 percent a year, until the state’s historically low costs caught up to the national average. 

“This is going to be a disaster, especially in this tough economic time,” said Helene Kessler, a college and career adviser at Boca Raton High School. 

When junior Boris Bastidas started attending Florida Atlantic University in 2008, his scholarship covered 75 percent of his tuition and fees. It’s now down to 57 percent. Factoring in the proposed cuts and a likely tuition increase at FAU, the scholarship might only cover 40 percent this fall. 

“It’s striking to me that in a period of a few years, they would change the structure two or three times,” said Bastidas, 22, of Tamarac, who also receives a federal Pell Grant. “It’s very unsettling.”

He said the change could eat into his savings. 

While state officials say they have to rein in the program, some are concerned about the effect on minority students. A report showed 49 percent of black students are in danger of being disqualified once the SAT score goes up to 1050. That compares with 37 percent of Hispanics and 26 percent of whites.

“That seems to be a disproportionate unpleasant impact on one group of people,” said Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando. 

State Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, chairwoman of the subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations, said those are only projections. But she said she hopes it serves as a warning to educators that they need to better prepare students. 

The Bright Futures program was started in 1997 as a way to keep Florida’s top students in state. The scholarships worked but also contributed to the state having some of the largest and most crowded universities in the country.

The paltry academic requirements needed to get a Bright Future scholarship in Florida could be one of the reasons the program is underfunded now. Of course, those low qualifications are needed to make sure Black students aren’t denied money that their parents undoubtedly contributed to the fund in the first place.

Same goes with Georgia.

Just take a look at the FCAT scores from Florida and you’ll see what they reveal. No surprises. 

Black people have long considered both the Hope and Bright Futures Scholarship racist. Now that both are being severely cut-back due to the lack of discretionary income for low-income Georgia and Florida residents (ahem, largely Black), students in both states are mad. Raising the requirements for the scholarships will have the inverse effect of what lowering the standards for the police test in Dayton will help create.

If you live in the South, you can’t move away from the problems anymore. The crumbling school system in Memphis  have been dissolved and those whites who fled that city are now stuck with the bill of paying for the failures of a people they have no desire to live near (but they love cheering for the sons of those people on the athletic fields).

The same could soon happen in Birmingham, where wealthier — read “whiter” or “better managed” — school districts could be forced to pay for the failures of the Black school district.
Hope? Bright Futures? No more. Isn’t it time, then, for us to at last accept that failing to admit the obvious only means that everything will fail in the end?
America’s adherence to egalitarianism threatens to destabilize the country.Not in 10 years, not in five years, not even in two years.

Austerity measures enacted in states with high minority populations will see destabilization immediately.

Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes the slow end of Hope and Bright Futures, programs that were crafted to include the lowest common denominator. Financially this set-up is no longer tenable. Raising academic requirements means that some children will be cut out of the reallocation of lottery money that poor people in those states could have seen earning compound interest in a bank account.Free tuition for college isn’t a right.

Only in Black Run America (BRA) could potential college students believe that the burden for paying for their higher education should fall upon the shoulders of the lottery players of the states of Florida and Georgia.

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