It’s unconscionable that state Sen. Joe Negron and Senate President Don Gaetz would want to stand between deserving high school graduates and their shot at a college education.
But efforts by the two lawmakers to kill well-meaning legislation meant to end an inequity in state law governing college tuition rates could very well end the dreams of thousands of deserving students.
Negron, a Republican from Stuart, and Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville, are against a bill that grants in-state college tuition rates to students who have attended Florida schools for four years or more but whose parents are in the country illegally.
Fearing the bill may pass, Negron and Gaetz are using legislative procedures to make sure it never gets a vote before the full Senate, effectively killing it. The scheme led Gov. Rick Scott and former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez to urge the lawmakers to advance the bill through the Senate. Negron and Gaetz should listen to the governors, all of them conservative Republicans, and allow the bill to move through its last committee stop and, hopefully, a full Senate vote.
“For Florida to continue to be a land of opportunity and a beacon of freedom to people from all backgrounds, we must ensure our future generations are prepared for success,” Martinez said.
Scott’s decision to openly push for a full Senate vote is particularly encouraging. Scott has signaled he would consider signing a bill changing the in-state tuition rules, but his comments make it clear he fully supports the measure.
“Florida students who have spent their childhood here in Florida deserve to qualify for the same in-state tuition rate at universities their peers and classmates do,” Scott said.
“We want our students to stay here in Florida when they go to college and when they choose a career.”
The bill would grant the in-state tuition rates — which can be three times less expensive than the rates charged to out-of-state students — to students without legal immigration status who attended school for at least four years in Florida and who enrolled within two years of graduation.
Students without legal immigration status can attend college now, but must pay the out-of-state rate. That makes little sense. The students were brought to the country by their parents. Their families have contributed to the economy by paying sales taxes. The students have achieved academically and are deserving of a college education.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, supported a similar measure in the House, where it won bipartisan support and passed with a resounding 81-33 vote.
Negron says universities have the ability to waive the out-of-state rate for applicants, and therefore the bill is unnecessary. Gaetz says he’s concerned the bill “casts a blanket of approval over noncitizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries which are caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence.”
Introducing terror into the debate is ridiculous. This legislation would level the playing field for all students earning a high school diploma and wanting to reach their full potential. Their dreams should not rest with a university’s decision to grant a waiver.
Weatherford says he’s hopeful a resolution can be found.
“There are a lot of people who are praying for these kids,” Weatherford said. That includes Scott, Bush and Martinez, who understand that Florida benefits when it treats all of its residents with dignity and respect.