Out-of-state students with Florida grandparents could get in-state tuition

Bill would offer the deal to people from other states that offer a similar arrangement in return,
Sen. Joe Gruters proposes a reciprocity agreement with other states that would grant in-state university tuition to students with grandparents who reside there, during debate on March 23, 2020.
Sen. Joe Gruters proposes a reciprocity agreement with other states that would grant in-state university tuition to students with grandparents who reside there, during debate on March 23, 2020. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published March 23, 2021|Updated March 23, 2021

Attending a Florida public university soon might get more affordable to high-achieving non-residents whose grandparents live in the state.

But the offer of in-state tuition rates for those potential students would be available only if their home state offers a similar deal in return to Floridians, under a bill moving through the Florida Senate.

“I thought that was a fair deal,” said Sen. Joe Gruters, the Sarasota County Republican who chairs the Education Committee.

Gruters presented the reciprocity idea as an amendment to a bill (SB 1728) that aimed only to provide the lower cost to out-of-state students with Florida grandparents and high SAT or comparable assessment scores. Bill sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley contended that the grandparents pay taxes in Florida, yet demand little of the education system, so their grandchildren should be able to get some benefit.

Students who live outside Florida but have a parent who resides here already can claim in-state tuition.

He called the Gruters amendment a “great idea” that he expected would be appreciated by Florida’s senior citizens and their families.

Florida does not have many such tuition agreements in place. It participates in a consortium of university degree programs with 15 southeastern states, but for graduate programs only.

Sen. Lori Berman, a Boynton Beach Democrat, asked whether Gruters expected to create a new arrangement for this idea. That was his plan.

“Why don’t we take the first leap?” Gruters said. “Anybody from the rest of the country can join.”

The concept would apply to public universities only, if ultimately approved.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously added the tuition compact idea to the legislation, which still has two more committee stops before going to the full chamber. A similar bill is assigned to the House Education & Employment Committee.

As the measure advances, it should include a clear definition of who a grandparent is, and how someone would prove their grandparent status, said Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat who also is a lawyer.

Without clear terms, Polsky said, the potential for false claims could be high.

“How can you ensure the website doesn’t open up saying ‘grandparents for rent’ to get this discount?” Gruters said in agreement. “We need to work this out.”

The notion of a special tuition rate for certain out-of-state students was debated on the same day that another Senate committee advanced a separate proposal, also sponsored by Baxley, to revamp the Bright Futures scholarship program for high achieving in-state students.

Related: Funding concerns linger over Bright Futures scholarships

Some observers suggested it seemed inappropriate that lawmakers proposed reducing the support to in-state students while offering deals to some who live elsewhere. Senators stressed that they had no intention of cutting the Bright Futures awards, though they also observed that they cannot guarantee the level of funding from year to year.

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The Bright Futures bill had many controversial portions removed, but not the wording that would tie the amounts to legislative budgeting, rather than guarantee full funding.

“I really don’t know what the future holds,” Baxley said during that discussion, adding he did not want to tie the hands of future legislators.