Immigrant Tuition Surprise Springs From Poll Results
Around the State
By 7 clear percentage points in the new Sunshine State News-commissioned Voter Survey Service Poll -- 52-to-45 percent -- Florida voters say let's allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay the same college and university tuition as in-state students.
But the real surprise in the poll-question response is where the strong resistance to the lower, in-state tuition rate is coming from.
It's not coming from Northwest Florida and the Panhandle after all. The big opposition is in Southwest Florida.
According to survey results, 61 percent of voters in and around the Naples-Fort Myers area want children of undocumented immigrants who attended high school in Florida to pay higher, out-of-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities. That's the heaviest opposition of any region in the Sunshine State.
James Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, said Southwest Florida's result shows the communities of the region are doggedly committed to upholding immigration laws.
"The ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the Bay area is virtually the same as in Southwest Florida," he said, "yet the difference is astounding -- in the Bay area it's 42 percent for higher tuition rates and 55 percent for in-state rates."
Comparing all other Florida regions: in the Northeast, 48 percent favored in-state rates for immigrants, 50 percent favored out-of-state -- within the margin of error and close enough to call a draw; in Central Florida, 51 percent for in-state rates, 45 percent out-of-state; and in the more cosmopolitan, immigrant-rich Southeast, 60 percent of voters said they want in-state tuition rates, 36 percent said out-of-state rates.
The SSN-VSS poll also shows that of Florida Republicans overall, 40 percent favor lower tuition for undocumented students, but 58 percent want to see those students paying the higher rate. Of Democrats, percentages are not only flipped, they're more dramatic: 32 percent of voters think undocumented students should be paying higher rates, but a whopping 66 percent say it's OK for these students to pay the lower, in-state rates.
To see all the comparisons and percentage breakdowns in the poll, read the crosstabs attached below.
In March, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, told SSN he cannot support giving undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates because his Northwest Florida constituents are staunchly against the measure. It's a fairness issue, he said. Northwest Florida has many children of military families who cannot access in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities if they are residents of other states, even if their parents are stationed in Florida, he said. "I don't know how I explain to them that we're going to subsidize families who didn't play by the rules."
Gaetz said the Senate, opposed in previous years, is divided on the issue now, but he will not stand in the bill's way if it gains popularity in his chamber. He said the bill is one of House Speaker Will Weatherford's priorities.
In fact, a bill that would lower tuition for undocumented college students already has gained approval from the full House.
Said Gaetz, "It's an issue where people have to think about where they come from, what their values are, what they think is good public policy."
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee will consider Jack Latvala's, R-Clearwater, high-profile immigrant tuition bill, SB 1400, at 9 a.m. today.
Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Tom Feeney, a supporter of the bill from early on, said Tuesday, “AIF believes that allowing certain undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition is a positive step forward for businesses in, and looking to relocate to, Florida. Education reform, such as this, will give business owners the opportunity to retain and grow a strong workforce.”
Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, has said he supports Latvala's bill because it removes a provision that currently allows state universities to raise tuition above the amount set annually by the state Legislature.
The poll of 800 Florida voters was taken March 31-April 3 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percent.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.