Now that the Florida House has passed legislation that would allow undocumented students who attended state high schools to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities, Gov. Rick Scott should help persuade the Senate to approve it. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, says he has the votes if he can get the bill out of committees and to the full chamber, and the governor should help him. This is an issue of fundamental fairness to young people our communities already have invested in, and the legislation should not be allowed to die without a Senate vote.
Undocumented students who graduate high school in Florida now pay out-of-state tuition at state colleges and universities, regardless of how long they have lived in the state, their academic credentials or their potential to succeed on campus. They also are ineligible for state or federal financial aid such as subsidized loans or grants, putting postsecondary education in Florida even further out of reach. Several Florida colleges have moved to help undocumented students by allowing them to pay in-state tuition. But the legislation approved by the House offers a fairer, broader solution.
The legislation, HB 851, allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they have attended a Florida high school for four years and if they apply to college within 24 months of receiving their high school diplomas. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, strongly supported the bill and accepted changes to win more Republican votes — including the four years of high school requirement and a guarantee that undocumented students would not be given spots allocated for Florida residents. The legislation was approved by an 81-33 bipartisan vote, and every Tampa Bay House member voted for it except for two Republicans who have yet to recognize the benefits of inclusion: Reps. Larry Ahern of Seminole and Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes.
Scott, who has a habit of supporting good public policy such as expanding Medicaid and not prodding the Legislature to follow through, should take an active role this time. Undocumented students, including seniors who will graduate this year, need a decision now. They have worked hard and deserve relief from a policy that creates an unfair financial burden on them as they seek to better themselves through higher education. These are students who have graduated from Florida high schools, succeeded academically and contributed to our communities. They deserve an opportunity to continue their education and pay the same prices as their high school classmates and neighbors.
Seventeen states charge in-state tuition for undocumented students. Florida, which has one of the largest immigrant populations in the country, should follow suit. Scott is seeking re-election, and his campaign has stumbled recently in courting Hispanic voters. Pushing this legislation through the Senate would be both smart public policy and politics for the governor.