Tampa, Florida -- Changes to Florida's Bright Futures Scholarship program are set to kick-in this fall, but the federal government is now investigating whether those new, tougher standards are unfair to minorities.
Consider Rocky Hirsch and Nickkoy Boswell.
Both are freshman at the University of South Florida. Both are Floridians. Both are Bright Futures scholarship recipients. But neither Hirsch, who is white, nor Boswell, who is black, thinks their race had anything to do with their achievement.
"I would see how that might have been applicable in the past, but now I feel like everyone has the same resources," said Boswell.
"Everybody has the same opportunity to study, the same opportunity to prepare for the tests and whatnot," said Hirsch.
But the U.S. Department of Education isn't so sure about that.
This week, the feds quietly re-opened a case questioning whether Florida's Bright Futures scholarship program violates minorities' civil rights, and whether the ever-tougher qualifications are unfair to economically challenged students.
"I think really it's mostly socioeconomic status," said USF's vice provost for student success, Paul Dosal.
Dosal said the school has crunched the numbers out of concern that the higher standards would mean fewer students will be able to meet their financial needs.
They found that those critics may be right, said Dosal.
Under the state's new, higher SAT score standards, they found half as many USF students would qualify for a Bright Futures scholarship. And the numbers are disproportionately worse for Latinos (down 60%) and African-Americans (down more than 75%).
"We suspected a disproportionate impact on students, and the numbers we ran certainly showed that," said Dosal.
Florida lawmakers, who passed the higher standards to help trim the state budget, say the now-minimum 1170 SAT score is not biased.
"Bright Futures from its inception has always been race, gender, and creed blind," said State Rep. Erik Fresen - (R) Miami, who chairs the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
But some argue wealthier students are able to afford tutoring or special courses aimed at improving those SAT scores and that they have an unfair advantage.
The federal government's investigation into Bright Futures scholarships was actually initiated more than 12 years ago, when standards were considerably lower. But there was not much interest in it at the time.
Now that the standards are being increased yet again, it seems that interest has been rekindled.