Putting Education Reform To The Test

Some Students With Incarcerated, Absent Parents Pay Higher Tuition

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A bill seen mostly as an effort to give immigrant families cheaper college tuition rates has died in the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee.

The failed SB 106 would have allowed undocumented students and legal Florida residents with undocumented parents to pay in-state tuition rates, which are up to three times less expensive than the out-of-state rates they currently pay.

But the current law doesn’t only keep immigrant families from accessing the cheaper rates. It can also affect Florida-born students with Florida-born parents who are incarcerated, deceased or absent.

“It does not just impact Hispanics or Latinos or Florida’s immigrant community which includes Haitians and Jamaicans, it also includes your typical American,” said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which works on civil rights issues of convicted felons who have served their sentences.

“Seven out of 10 households are just one paycheck away from being homeless, and so you can have a situation where the child is separated from the parent, the parent is incarcerated, the parent dies, and what is that young person supposed to do? Making them pay higher tuition because their parents aren’t around is not fair.” 

Unless students are over age 25, financially dependent according to federal tax forms, or married; they must provide the Florida residency documents of their parents, or legal guardians in order to qualify for the cheaper in-state tuition rates. If students cannot access those documents, they cannot prove they are residents for tuition purposes.

Meade says Florida’s law creates more barriers for vulnerable U.S.citizen students to receive an education in the state. And he questions the logic behind the law.

College students Nanci Palacios and Leonardo Yepez, were among two dozen students wearing orange graduation caps during the SB106 hearing to show their support of in-state tuition for all Florida students.

“Why should anything have to do with your parents,” Meade said.

“At the end of the day, the bottom line is you have a young person that is trying to improve their lives, that is trying to do better for themselves and in turn do better for their community.”

It Comes Back To Immigration

If the bill had passed, it would have opened the door for all Florida students, including undocumented students and Florida-born students with undocumented parents, to access the lower rate.

Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville has said it wouldn’t seem right to deny the lower rate to U.S. citizens in other states, but not undocumented families in Florida.

“Why would we give favor to children of illegal aliens over children of legal, out-of-state, longtime American citizens?”

Similar in-state tuition bills have made their way in and out of the Florida Legislature since 2003.

This year, Florida lawmakers narrowly defeated the bill 4-3. But last year, the same Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to pass in-state tuition, which later died in the Legislature.

Sen. David Simmons, R- Altamonte Springs told the Miami Herald he voted against the bill “because of the fiscal impact, among other things, that may happen to the state of Florida, by requiring us to give residency status to students from other states.”

The bill wasn’t “a solution to the problem,” Simmons said.

“We need to have comprehensive immigration reform that’s done right and this isn’t it.”

Nanci Palacios, a biomedical science student, with undocumented parents says she thinks she knows why lawmakers are reluctant to pass a law like this.

“I feel some legislators think our parents don’t pay taxes, but they do,” Palacios said. “And those go to universities to provide in-state tuition for other Florida resident tax-payers. In-state tuition is not free tuition. Why can’t we benefit from the contributions of our own parents?”

More than 10 states including California,Texas, and New York have passed similar laws granting all state residents in-state tuition rates. It’s known as a state DREAM Act, as opposed to the federal DREAM Act which would have provided a path to citizenship for some undocumented students.

Florida is the only state known as an immigrant-receiver state that has not yet passed a state DREAM Act.

María Rodriguez, Executive Director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition issued this statement after the Committee voted against in-state tuition for all Florida residents.

Denying access to education and promoting exclusion is wrong. Our legislators are basically choosing who has access to education and who doesn’t, discriminating thousands of talented youth only because of their immigrant origin.

Or because of who their parents are, says Desmond Meade.

Six years ago, Meade was homeless. Now he is a student at Florida International University College of Law.

“If I was younger and had to rely on my parents… and their forms, than I would not have had the opportunity to go to school at the out-of-state rate,” Meade said. “And I wouldn’t be in my position that I am today as a second year law student.”


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