Putting Education Reform To The Test

Fla. Department of Education Reviews Decision on In-State Tuition for Students with Undocumented Parents

Florida Immigrant Coalition

Students and immigrant rights activists wore graduation caps during a sit-in at Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera's office in Tallahassee back in February 2012. They were asking the House Majority Leader to push forward a bill in the Florida legislature that would have granted college tuition equity. But the bill died in a committee.

Today marks a big win for U.S. born college students with undocumented parents.

A federal judge in Miami ruled Florida students will not have to pay out-of-state tuition rates at state Universities just because their parents aren’t citizens.

The decision overturns a state Department of Education policy to charge students higher, non-resident tuition rates when the citizenship of their parents can’t be determined.

It could be worth thousands of dollars a year to some students who have been paying double or triple the cost of the resident tuition rates.

The plaintiffs in this case were five U.S. citizens whose parents could not prove their own American citizenship.

Jerri Katzerman is a lawyer from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed and won the case in Miami federal court.

“The importance of the case is the judge has said this violates the U.S. constitution,” he said. “We do not treat U.S. citizens differently from other U.S. citizens.”

In Miami, advocates for immigrants welcomed the ruling, which they said could apply to thousands of people.

Maria Rodriguez is the executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. She said the children of undocumented immigrants who live in Florida deserve in-state tuition as much as any Florida resident.

“Those who live in Florida pay sales tax, property tax and participate in the local economy,” she said. “They should be afforded the in-state tuition rates and should not be linked to immigration.”

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education said in an email statement that the decision by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore is under review and refused farther comment.

Back in February, a proposed bill that would have allowed Florida-born U.S. citizens to pay in-state college tuition fees regardless of the immigration status of their parents, died in the Florida Legislature.

During testimony for the bill, Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Gainesville Republican who chairs the Florida Senate committee on Higher Education, interrupted a student who said Florida’s policy was unfair because she’s a legal residents.

“No, no, no, we’re talking about your parents,” Oelrich said, according to the Associated Press. “That’s how we establish residency in the state of Florida, by the status of your parents.”

Its not yet clear how the Florida Department of Education will interpret the federal ruling.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of the story we misspelled lawyer Jerri Katzerman’s last name. 


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