Fighting for Florida

In an op-ed for the Sun Sentinel, Senator Rubio urges the U.S. Department of Education to end its baseless investigation into the Florida Bright Futures scholarship program, highlighting the program’s fundamental purpose: to assist promising students with rising costs of higher education based solely on merit. Excerpts from the piece are below:

For over two decades, Bright Futures has helped thousands of students finance their education at our state's colleges and universities. Its promise has been simple: for high-school students who achieve a certain grade point average, standardized test score and coursework, the state gives scholarships covering all or most of their college tuition.

The program has been entirely merit-based, using the most objective standards available.

If people believe the wrong priorities are being set, our political process provides avenues to advocate for legislative changes or elect representatives who do share their priorities. That's what makes this federal intrusion unnecessary.

A federal civil rights investigation is a serious matter that should be reserved for instances where deliberate violations of civil rights are clearly occurring.

We had many vigorous debates about the program and its future during my time in the legislature, including whether its changing standards were leaving out too many students. The criticism that existed then, as it does now, was that this program had the effect of transferring money from Florida lottery players that tend to be poorer to students who tended to come from wealthier families.

It was a valid concern, and one we made efforts to address by prioritizing more need-based grant and loan programs, as well as the underlying factors that made it harder for students to achieve the Bright Futures academic eligibility standards. It reinforced in me the belief that our K-12 education system should provide greater freedoms to parents to help their kids escape failing schools, expanded learning and mentoring opportunities for at-risk kids.

But ultimately, these choices, debates and arguments belong at the state and local level. It's one thing to question one's policy priorities, but it's another matter to suggest that the architects of a scholarship program — one that has already helped thousands of Hispanic and African-American students — may be guilty of discriminating against these communities.

If people want to debate the underlying merits of the Bright Futures standards, I can respect that. And if someone wants to scrap Bright Futures entirely because they believe there is simply no infallible and completely objective way of setting eligibility standards for it, they should make that argument before the state legislature.

But encouraging the federal government to interfere and decide for us would set a dangerous precedent that all Floridians will one day come to regret.

Read the entire op-ed here.