Legislation adopted by the Florida Legislature — and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on June 9 — will make college more affordable for undocumented workers.
The governor’s signature signals the end of an 11-year effort to allow undocumented workers who have completed at least three years in a Florida high school the opportunity to attend Florida state colleges at the in-state tuition rate.
The students, however, must enroll in the postsecondary school within 24 months of graduation.
Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help Inc., in Dade City, played a major role in advocating for the change, and is pleased by the Legislature’s action.
“We’re very happy that we got what we got. It’s been a long time coming,” Romo said.
For years, she’s been taking undocumented students to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers to explain why it is so important to allow them to attend Florida colleges without paying out-of-state tuition. Throughout that effort, Romo has repeated this refrain: “You can pick enough oranges to pay in-state tuition, but you cannot pick enough oranges to pay out-of-state tuition.”
With the adoption of this legislation, Florida will become the 20th state to offer some sort of in-state tuition to students brought to the United States illegally, according to The New York Times. Romo credited state House Speaker Will Weatherford’s support for playing a key role in gaining the legislation’s passage.
“The speaker of the house really knocked himself out,” said Romo, who was inducted last year into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame for her work in advocating for the needs of migrant farmworkers and immigrants.
Romo took three young men in to meet the Wesley Chapel Republican to discuss the issue, and Weatherford told her that made an impression.
“I was actually in the hospital when the speaker of the house called me,” she said. “Of course, I didn’t answer the phone because I was in the hospital. I just had my fourth heart attack. He called and left a message saying he had a surprise.
“He said, ‘I just want you to know that I am really going to support in-state tuition.’ That certainly gave my heart a lift. And, he kept his word.”
When the legislation passed, Weatherford issued a statement that said lawmakers were making history.
“For many years, children who are here through no fault of their own have waited for the opportunity to fully realizing their dreams,” Weatherford said in the statement. “Today, the Florida Legislature put those dreams into reach.”
While pleased with the legislation, Romo would like to see an amendment in the future that would remove the provision that limits the in-state tuition to those who have graduated from a Florida high school within the past two years. The battle to make this change began more than a decade ago and the two-year limit leaves out too many people who simply will never be able to attend college, without the lower rate, Romo said.
Published June 11, 2014
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