Bill To Grant Cheaper Tuition For Undocumented Students Struggles In Senate

Mar 18, 2014

No matter how long they've lived in Florida, undocumented students must pay the out-of-state rate to attend college here. It's about three times more expensive than the in-state rate.

High school senior Diego Ramirez from Florida City told lawmakers he’s in the top 10 percent of his class. He’s lived in Florida four years and is undocumented.

“I’ve always wanted to go to college [and] become a businessman because that’s my dream,” Ramirez said.

Undocumented students in Florida have to pay out-of-state rate for college, which is three times more expensive.

Now, a bill to grant cheaper, in-state college tuition to undocumented students may be in trouble.

The proposal just barely passed its first Senate committee Tuesday.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, says undocumented students already get a free education in Florida’s public schools.

“I do firmly believe that the in-state tuition is a benefit that we give to the people of the state of Florida. We don’t give that benefit to people from other states," Stargel said. "If you’re not documented, you’re not here legally, I have a hard time giving you a benefit that we give to Floridians.”  

While Democrats widely support the idea, Republicans are split.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, filed the bill because he says parents are already paying the same sales taxes and other taxes that residents pay.

“Why penalize these young people for what their parents did 25 or 26 years ago?” asked Latvala.

His bill barely passed the Senate Education Committee five-to-four. It has three more committee stops, and Senate President Don Gaetz is opposed to it.

The House version of the bill is faring much better. It’s ready for debate on the floor, and it’s a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford.