Children brought to Florida by undocumented parents could soon get college tuition break

02/26/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Jack Latvala, Ed Hooper, immigration, DREAMERS, Florida, 2014 legislative session


State Senator Jack Latvala, left, is sponsoring a bill that would give undocumented students access to in-state tuition for college.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Undocumented immigrants who want to go to college after attending high school in Florida might get a break on their tuition if a bill filed by state Senator Jack Latvala passes. During a press conference at the St. Petersburg College Clearwater campus Wednesday, Latvala announced the provisions of his bill.

“It would provide tuition equity for those students who may not have been born in the country, but who live here and attended a Florida high school for three consecutive years and enrolled in an institutions of higher learning within 24-months of graduating from high school.”

Right now, students whose undocumented parents brought them to Florida pay more than their high school classmates to go to college.

“Currently, out of state fees can amount to as much as $17,000 more per year than those charged to Florida residents.”

That disparity keeps many students from going to college. But even those who bite the bullet and pay the higher tuition still have to make some tough choices about their education. Dulce Jimenez is an SPC student working toward a degree in nursing.

“I initially wanted to be an emergency physician. I was willing to put the time and effort to become a doctor, but because of the cost of out of state tuition which I am paying right now, it would have been a ridiculous amount of money that my parents and I had to pay. Letting go of your number one dream because of something you can’t control is extremely hard.”

The fact that some students are forced to choose careers based on how long they’ll have to fork over thousands more than their peers pushed Republican Senator Latvala to tackle the issue.

“And this year I was, frankly, very taken aback by the large number of Hispanics that were shopping there and living in our community and I just decided that, in good conscience, there is no reason in the world why parents’ immigration status ought to be the determining factor of the tuition that our young people pay.”

The idea behind higher out-of-state tuition is to charge students a premium because if they don’t live here, they don’t pay taxes here.

“In this particular case, these children are the children of taxpayers in Florida – who pay our sales tax, who pay our gas taxes, in many cases pay other taxes.”

Latvala says he’s spoken to the governor about the bill and several of his colleagues in the Senate and is confident he can get the measure passed. Latvala adds, House Speaker Will Weatherford is also on board.

“When the Speaker of the House is committed to something, the House of Representatives and listens and normally passes the legislation.”

A House version of the bill is being sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nunez and already has the support of Clearwater Rep. Ed Hooper.

“The government requires us to educate all children whether they are legally or illegally in this state and yet, after a lot of these young adults go through high school, we choose to treat them like they’re no longer Floridians and that’s wrong.”

The legislative session starts next week in Tallahassee, but it’s not clear when the bill will be heard. Supporters are already excited though. Maria Hernandez is a senior in high school and attends SPC’s early college program. Right now those college credits are free as part of her high school curriculum. She won’t have to pay out-of-state tuition next year because her parents were naturalized in 2001. She calls that her golden ticket, but pleads with lawmakers to support the in-state tuition bill for her friends who weren’t so lucky.

“I want everyone to think of what this would mean for them, not just … because I do have friends and I know that this would really impact them.”

In addition to providing in-state tuition for children of undocumented parents, the bill would also extend that benefit to veterans and military reservists. Senator Latvala’s bill would also restrict colleges from raising certain tuition rates for undergraduates and …

“…give parents who invest in their children’s college education through the Florida prepaid college program a significant reduction in their monthly payments.”

That bill would also allow non-Florida residents to pay in-state tuition if they marry a Florida resident.

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