1. Florida Politics

Carlton: On immigrant tuition, maybe minds can change

Published Feb. 8, 2014

For more than a decade, an idea about fairness in public education went exactly nowhere in Florida.

Students who lived here and were undocumented immigrants through no fault of their own — they were brought here as children — would get the same break on college tuition as Florida residents, the thinking went.

And since out-of-state tuition can cost four times as much, this would give these kids a better shot at a college degree and a good job — which, it can be argued, would surely be good for Florida's future, too.

But at its heart, this idea had that divisive word: immigration. Since 2003, our Republican-dominated Legislature has soundly squashed attempts at turning this sensible tuition tweak into law.

Turns out, times and politics — if not actual minds — just maybe can change.

This year's tuition push is supported by no less than House Speaker Will Weatherford. In a recent column in the Tampa Bay Times, Weatherford pointed out that we're talking about kids who "play football on our high school teams. They are some of our valedictorians, our cheerleaders and our children's closest friends."

"Can Florida afford to lose their talents and potential?" he wrote.

The answer being: no.

In related news, if you can believe it, Gov. Rick Scott recently allowed that he would "certainly consider" in-state tuition for those particular students.

Yes, Scott did do some tap-dancing afterward. But it was not the resounding, absolute "no" you might have expected from a governor who last year vetoed a bill that would have in some cases let undocumented immigrants get driver's licenses.

And even his lukewarm I'll-think-about-it response that day did not likely sit well with the more conservative members of his party. Interesting.

Why, yes — now that you mention it, Scott is up for re-election, in what promises to be a bruising brawl with former governor and new Democrat Charlie Crist.

And yes, it has dawned on many people of late just how much the Hispanic vote actually matters here in Florida.

But politics and potential pandering aside, doesn't this one seem like a no-brainer?

Seventeen states already have similar tuition breaks in place. Both Florida International University and Miami Dade College have gotten practical, too, charging in-state rates to immigrant students who are in President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Fair-minded students at our own University of South Florida and University of Florida are pushing for this, too.

Think about the people who would be affected by this change: by definition, kids who want to accomplish something.

They are not asking for entitlements, handouts or freebies on the backs of the hard-working rest-of-us. It bears repeating: They were children when they got here.

And now they want to be able to afford to go to college, get a degree, go out into the world and take a shot at making a mark on it.

All of which sounds pretty American to me.

Whether it's pandering, politics, enlightened or not, it's a sensible change in education, an issue of fairness and good for Florida to boot.

And hopefully, an idea whose time has come.


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