Civil Rights Groups File Bias Complaint Against FL Scholarship

University Testing

FairTest and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) have challenged the Florida Bright Futures scholarship program as racially discriminatory by filing a test bias complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This complaint follows a December 2001 letter from FairTest, MALDEF, and other civil rights and education organizations calling on the Florida Department of Education and the state’s elected officials, including Governor Jeb Bush, to re-examine the scholarship criteria in light of its discriminatory impact (see Examiner, Winter 2001-02).


The OCR complaint argues that the use of arbitrarily high SAT I and ACT test-score minimums to determine scholarship eligibility discriminates against African American and Latino students. Although the Bright Futures scholarship is supposed to reward “academic achievement,” high score minimums are required regardless of a student’s high school record. The program relies on cut-off scores of 1270 on the SAT I and 28 on the ACT for a full-tuition Academic Scholars award to a Florida public university, and a 970 SAT I and 20 ACT for a partial-tuition scholarship. According to the complaint, “Florida’s scholarships are poorly designed, in part, because no amount of academic excellence exhibited over a student’s high school career can outweigh a single point on the ACT or 10 points on the SAT I.”


For the 2001 high school graduating class, African Americans and Latinos represented 16% and 15% of Florida test-takers respectively, yet they earned only 3% and 9% of the full-tuition Academic Scholars awards. White students received the lion’s share of the scholarships, garnering three-quarters of all awards while comprising only 58% of test-takers. This is mostly due to the lower admissions test scores earned by students of color. In 2001, 12% of White students in Florida reached the 1270 SAT I score. The comparable figure for Latinos was 6%, and for African Americans 1%. In other words, the percentage of White students eligible for a Bright Futures scholarship was more than double that of Latinos and nearly 10 times that of African Americans.


FairTest and the other complainants asked the State of Florida to give greater weight to real measures of high school achievement in the scholarship process, such as relying on just high school grade point average or class rank. Alternatively, the state could utilize screeners who would consider multiple criteria to identify high academic achievement.


Also joining the complaint were the Hispanic Coalition, Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches, Jacksonville Urban League, Hispanic American Alliance, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The federal Office for Civil Rights has not indicated any timeline for dealing with the test bias complaint. This could be because Governor Bush was involved in a tough reelection fight in which his policies on education and civil rights were key controversies.


The OCR complaint can be viewed at