Bill to Offer In-State Tuition for DREAMers Heading to House Floor
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The battle to offer in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants gained ground after a bill in the Florida House passed unanimously through a House panel Thursday.
HB 851 provides that students who attend a Florida high school for three consecutive years and enroll in an institution of higher education within 24 months after graduation will not be required to pay out-of-state fees, as long as they submit their high school transcript as documentary evidence of attendance and graduation.
Offering in-state tuition has gathered significant attention in the Florida Legislature. House Speaker Will Weatherford has prioritized the issue, highlighting the need to offer the same opportunities for DREAMers as other students across the state.
"Let's exercise our state's rights and open the door of opportunity for all of Florida's children,” he said during his opening address on the House floor. "We should never punish a child for the mistake of their parents.”
The proposal gained another high-profile supporter this week: Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott says he’s on board with the proposal to offer in-state tuition rates for DREAMers in part because it ties in with another one of his top priorities to prevent state universities from raising tuition rates above those set by the Florida Legislature.
Scott announced Wednesday his support of a bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, which would remove a provision which would allow universities to raise tuition levels above the amount set by the Florida Legislature every year.
"I'm appreciative of the fact that [Latvala’s] concerned about the debt that our students are ending up with and that tuition has been growing too fast," Scott said. "I like his bill because he's doing the right thing."
But Scott’s decision to support in-state tuition has gathered criticism. In 2010, the governor vowed to get tough on immigration. In 2012, he vetoed a bill that would allow some undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license.
The Florida Democratic Party pounced on Scott’s apparent flip-flop, doubting the governor’s sincerity and saying he was pandering to Hispanic voters.
“For three years, Rick Scott hasn’t been treating young, undocumented immigrants like people -- now, he’s treating them like political pawns,” said FDP Chair Allison Tant.
“Less than a year ago, this governor said he didn’t support helping Dreamers go to college, and then vetoed drivers’ licenses for Dreamers. We saw where Rick Scott’s heart is when he targeted Hispanics with a voter purge, and voiced enthusiastic support for Arizona-style immigration laws,” Chair Tant added.
But Rick Scott's camp jumped on Tant's comments.
"If the Florida Democratic Party supports automatic annual tuition increases and making education more expensive for every Floridian, they should just say so," said "Rick Scott for Florida" spokesman Greg Blair, who later took a jab at former Gov. Charlie Crist. "After all, that's the position of their preferred candidate for governor.”
The bill will now head to the House floor. A Senate version of the bill has not yet received a hearing.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.