Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are Bright Future scholarships going to the right students?

More than a half-million students have benefited so far, and Bright Futures is enormously popular with both politicians and parents alike.

Like the cost of a college education, the cost of Bright Futures has skyrocketed — from an initial price tag of $70 million in 1997 to $437 million today, making it easily the state’s most expensive student-aid program.

Bright Futures awards are generally funded by lottery money, as opposed to tax dollars, and can’t be diverted into the state’s general budget to shore up deficits there.

The program gets just a slice of every lottery dollar, not the whole pie. Lottery revenue is also funneled into K-12 schools, school construction bonds and community colleges. And of course, there are lottery prizes to pay out.

Theoretically, if the state decided to spend less on scholarships, it could spend more on those other educational areas.

With the growth of Bright Futures over the years, the college scholarship program was draining a greater share of those Lottery dollars. Last year, the expense was so high, the state had to dig into stimulus money and other one-time revenues to plug the roughly $100 million hole.

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