Higher Bright Futures Standards Worry Local School Officials

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PANAMA CITY - State officials estimate about 50% of Florida's high school students will not qualify for Bright Futures scholarships this year. Bay County school officials say that number should also hold true locally.

Some are worried about how this will affect local students' abilities to get college educations.

19 year old Bria Mathews is a freshman at Gulf Coast State College and works at the financial aid office. She's one of 919 students at the college that receives the Bright Futures scholarship.

"I really didn't know I had won the scholarship, I thought i missed it by a point, but I found out I actually got it and it is very helpful with college tuition and fees," said Mathews.

Over the last few years, the legislature has set aside less money for the Bright Futures program, while raising the requirements to receive the scholarships. This year's standards are expected to be the toughest yet.

"I think it's somewhat unfair for those who are barely making the score due to, you know, studying and other activities going on in their lives," said Mathews.

As a result, Bay District School officials expect to see a dip in the number of Bright Futures recipients this year.

In 2009, 545 Bay County students qualified for Bright Futures. Last year, only 424 students received the scholarships.

"I think it's going to significantly impact minority students. The legislators are saying those who initiated this legislation four years ago said it should be for the best of the best, not for your middle of the road," said Suzanne Farrar, Secondary Instructional Services Director.

Farrar also says the new requirements will likely keep some students close to home.

"It may eliminate some students from being able to leave their home town and go into a larger university. It may keep them here," said Farrar.

In 2008, 1 in 3 Florida students qualified for Bright Futures. Now it's about 1 in 8.