TALLAHASSEE — After a decade-long fight, advocates of in-state tuition rates for students whose parents are undocumented have some momentum – at least in one chamber of the Legislature.
A House panel Wednesday gave unanimous passage to legislation, HB 851, sponsored by state Rep. Janet Nunez, R-Miami, that would offer in-state tuition rates to students who are United States citizens but whose parents are here illegally.
With the vocal blessing of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the bill has received two unanimous votes in its committee stops and will now be voted on by the entire House.
That the bill was assigned just two committee stops was early indication it’s a top House priority. Most bills must go through three committees.
Members of the House Education Appropriations Committee said students who attended Florida high schools should not be treated differently once they are accepted to a post-secondary institution.
“To all of a sudden change them from one status to another after they have graduated and gone through our public schools is…wrong,” said state Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach.
Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said he was concerned the students of undocumented parents could be “priced out” of the system.
For example, at the University of South Florida, in-state students pay $6,410 annually in tuition and fees. That number jumps to $17,324 for out-of-state students. At Florida Gulf Coast University, in-state tuition and fees cost $6,318 annually. Out of state students must add $18,974 to that figure, according to the school’s website.
Nicholas Wolf, a Florida International University student, told the committee his mother moved him and his twin brother to the United States from Colombia at age 5 on tourist visas.
“We feel we are part of the fabric of America,” Wolf said.
Various versions of the in-state proposal have been filed during the past 11 legislative sessions. In most cases, Republican leadership did not even give the bills a committee hearing. And while Weatherford is now going against what has been considered his party’s political current on the issue, the in-state tuition proposal still faces an uncertain future.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has said he opposes the idea but will allow the Senate to debate it.
Gov. Rick Scott has been asked about the measure several times, but has only said he would “consider” signing an in-state tuition proposal. When asked about the idea, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who served eight years in the House, said he has not reviewed “his voting record” and can’t remember if he supports the plan.
It is the top priority of the Hispanic Legislative Caucus, whose members included Lopez-Cantera before he was term-limited out of the House in 2010.