Thursday, November 27th, 2014
Mostly True
American Bridge 21st Century
Says Rick Scott presided over cuts to the Bright Futures college scholarship program.

American Bridge 21st Century on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 in an online video

Rick Scott presided over Bright Futures cut, Democratic PAC says

Republican Gov. Rick Scott paid for college by working at a doughnut shop and getting help from the GI bill. Now he says he wants low-income students to have that same shot at the American dream that he did.

Scott has called for lowering the cost of college, including challenging colleges to offer $10,000 degrees. On March 17, 2014, he repeated that message at a college affordability roundtable at Barbara Goleman High School in Miami Lakes.

Democrats were watching. American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC, used a video clip of a reporter interviewing Scott at the event to produce an online attack video.

While a smiling Scott appears to be standing in a library, a reporter asks: "In your first year in office you proposed millions of dollars in cuts to public education. Then in 2011-12 over those two years (you) signed off on tuition increases of 13 percent. You presided over cuts to the Bright Futures college scholarship program. To what extent is your recent efforts to boost education and hold the line on costs of education re-election politics?"

"All of that is incorrect," Scott responded, and then the video cuts him off. Text on the screen says, "Scott approved cuts to Bright Future scholarships," followed by, "Rick Scott is bad for Florida."

We heard the rest of Scott’s defense thanks to a recording by Miami Herald education reporter David Smiley. Scott talked up funding increases for K-12 education, "record funding for universities" and his fight to cut higher education tuition -- but he didn’t mention Bright Futures.

Education funding has been a hot topic in the race between Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democratic frontrunner. Here we will examine American Bridge’s charge that Scott presided over cuts to Bright Futures.

Bright Futures

Launched in 1997, Bright Futures is the college scholarship program funded by the Lottery and designed to keep high-achieving students at Florida schools.

The Web ad cites a May 2011 article in The Ledger about Bright Futures cuts approved by the Legislature and Scott during the annual legislative session. American Bridge sent us many other articles that described cuts that year.

Why would state legislators want to make the program less generous? They say it’s grown too expensive and that too many students qualify. In an effort to make the scholarships more competitive, they have increased test score requirements, a move that drew the attention of the U.S. Justice Department for making it harder for poorer students of minority backgrounds to get the grant.

There are a few ways we can examine cuts to the program, by looking at the total number of students served, the total amount of money disbursed, and the average scholarship amount per student. (There are different levels of Bright Futures awards depending on grades and other factors, but we will cite the overall average.)

Here are recent years’ numbers on Bright Futures. The spending picture is not settled for the current and future fiscal years, so we have included an estimate for 2013-14 and the proposed figures for 2014-15.

 

Year

Number of students served

Amount of money disbursed

Average award per student

2007-08

159,170

$379.8 million

$2,387

2008-09

169,366

$429 million

$2,533

2009-10

177,612

$423.5 million

$2,385

2010-11

179,076

$423.3 million

$2,364

2011-12

174,047

$333.8 million

$1,918

2012-13

162,980

$312.1 million

$1,915

2013-14 estimated

154,160

$309.4 million

$2,007

2014-15 proposed

127,573

$266.2 million

$2,086

Source: Florida Department of Education

At a glance, it appears the total amount of Bright Futures funding nose-dived after Scott took office. Crist vows on his campaign website to reverse the cuts under Scott.

Reality is slightly more muddled. The decline in the total number of Bright Futures recipients and the program's total budget is a result of decisions by the Legislature under both Crist and Scott to rein in costs. (We asked the Crist campaign for a response; they didn’t provide one.)

The program’s costs spiraled up from an initial price tag of $70 million in 1997 to $437 million in 2011. Some critics said the standards for getting the awards were too easy.

In 2010, Crist’s last year as governor, the Legislature reduced Bright Futures scholarships by $1 dollar for every credit hour. The bill also raised SAT/ACT requirements incrementally, which was expected to lead to a drop in the number of students who would qualify. For example, the Legislature raised the minimum SAT requirement for Florida Medallion Scholars -- one subset of Bright Futures -- from 970 in 2010-11 to 1050 in 2013-14.

In 2011, Scott’s first year as governor, the Legislature decided to further raise test scores for 2013-14 graduates. For example, those Medallion Scholars would now have to score 1170 on their SAT by 2013-14.

Scott’s summary of his proposed 2014-15 budget states his proposal "fully funds" the scholarships for eligible students and that the decline in total funds is due to a projected decrease of students because they changed the standards.

So both Crist and Scott signed legislation that had the effect of reducing funding for Bright Futures.

Our ruling

American Bridge’s video said that Scott presided over cuts to the Bright Futures college scholarship program.

During his tenure, the program’s total budget and number of students served has dropped. The average award amount under Scott is smaller than during the Crist years.

However, it's worth noting that the Legislature under both Crist and Scott tightened eligibility requirements, which reduced the number of students who received the money. Both Crist and Scott signed off on those changes.

We rate this claim Mostly True.