Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott told the state legislature's Hispanic caucus he'll "consider" offering cheaper in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants in the Sunshine State.
"I'll certainly consider it," Scott said in a meeting with the caucus on Wednesday, according to the Miami Herald. "I want all tuition to stop growing."
Scott is in the middle of a tough fight for reelection against former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, according to a poll released this week by the University of Florida,
Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is currently ahead of Scott by 7 points — 47 to 40 percent.
State Sen. Rene Garcia, (R-Hialeah), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, echoed that in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants is the caucus’ top priority.
“The number of Hispanic voters is growing,” Garcia said. “This administration needs to take that into account.”
In-state tuition costs are significantly cheaper than out-of-state tuition costs. The average in-state tuition and fee costs at a four year state college in Florida is $25,334 or about $6,336 a year. Tuition and fees for out-of-state students balloon up to $81,560 on average for four years, or about $20,390 a year.
Florida currently has an in-state tuition bill under consideration and even though the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature has rejected similar bills over the past decade, there is reason for renewed optimism this year. Garcia and the Hispanic Caucus have the backing of Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford.
“I believe there’s an injustice and an inequality for kids who are brought here based on no decision they ever made,” Weatherford told the Miami Herald. “Right now there is a barrier for them furthering their education, and I think that injustice should be rectified.”
The issue of immigration has been a political football for both Scott and Christ.
Gov. Scott’s more optimistic tone about in-state tuition comes after just recently vetoing a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses in Florida, in a sign the Republican was taking a hard-line stand on the issue. Democrat state Sen. Darren Soto called Scott’s veto an “anti-Hispanic bomb,” according to the National Journal.
Scott also endorsed Arizona’s controversial SB-1070 immigration policy, which gave police the authority to ask for immigration papers at any time, as policy ‘that works for the country.”
Crist, on the other hand, has argued that creating a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented immigrants is a good way to help the economy. But his stances aren’t as clear. Crist has gone from a Republican governor in 2006 to 2010, then ran as an Independent for U.S. Senate in 2010, and now is running as Governor again this time, as a Democrat.
Immigration advocates say undocumented students deserve a chance at college, noting many do not realize their true immigration status until they apply for college and find out they won’t be able to attend. Supporters are also re-energized by New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, who signed a bill in early January granting in-state tuition to immigrant students.
"The taxpayers of this state are making an enormous investment in these young people," Christie said, citing the $17,700 average invested per year in every New Jersey public school student, regardless of their legal status. "The question is, do we want to maximize that investment through giving them nothing more than an opportunity?"
At least 16 states have laws allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, according to the National Immigration Law Center. As of March 2012, an estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States and 60 percent of those lived in six states — California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.