In-state tuition for undocumented Florida students

March 25, 2014 

The Florida House has spoken loud and clear in support of a class of students seeking a higher education but facing unaffordable tuition. With an overwhelming 81-33 vote last week, legislators in the state's lower chamber agreed to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition to attend for Florida college or university educations.

Lawmakers have fumbled this ball for more than a decade, teeing up the issue but never hitting the goal.

But similar legislation in the Senate is not assured. The chairman of the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano, opposes the bill, and the measure is assigned to his panel for a hearing. He could scuttle the legislation by refusing to schedule a hearing but the bill must pass through another panel before reaching his.

Galvano expressed reservations about the measure to this Editorial Board based on the cost to taxpayers, who subsidize in-state tuition. Granted, that should be a part of the conversation, but should that be the deciding factor?

If this is truly the land of opportunity, then this bill deserves attention. Florida talks a good talk about opportunity and compassion, and now's the time to walk the walk about education to improve the future of the workforce.

These are children who have not violated immigration law but stand guilty of their parents' misdeeds, and they should not pay that penalty.

They grew up in Florida, they earned high school diplomas and they've demonstrated academic success, or else they would not qualify for college.

This is not a free ride but a better opportunity to contribute to society. These aspiring business and community leaders should not be saddled with the massive debt load that out-of-state students incur to enjoy the privilege of our world-class state university and college system.

The Senate version of the bill offers an answer to anyone uneasy about the possibility that such a new law would displace American citizens and Florida residents seeking entry into a state institution:

Undocumented students would be classified as "out-of-state" residents, thereby not counting against the percentage of slots that state universities and colleges must reserve for in-state students.

One Republican lawmaker, Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City, framed this issue in the proper light in a Miami Herald report published in this newspaper on Friday: "One thing we know, we're not going to deport them. They are here. We need to make sure they have the best opportunities we can possibly provide them."

In a nutshell, Florida should take advantage of the best young minds living here by nurturing and developing talents vital to the state's future prosperity.

It deserves to move forward to a full Senate debate. The House and Senate can work out differences in conference committee. Open the door of opportunity wider to people who dream the American dream of success.

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