Tallahassee, FL – Around 50 people from Florida Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), along with community members and other allied organizations gathered on the steps of the Florida State Capitol, March 20, to demand “Education for All.” They called on the Florida legislature to vote on and pass HB851 and SB1400, bills would charge undocumented college students in-state tuition as opposed to out-of-state tuition.
Tuition equity, as it has come to be known, would grant the same tuition rate to any student in the state of Florida, regardless of his or her documented status. SDS has been fighting for the last year to bring local tuition equity policies to college campuses in Florida. Most recently, they have been advocating for bills in the state legislature that would be a step towards a fair and affordable education for every single student in the state.
The rally included a round of speeches from organizers of the Florida State University, University of South Florida and University of Florida SDS chapters. Other speakers included leaders of immigrant rights advocacy organizations, undocumented students, community members, statements from Florida university administrations, and Florida state senators and representatives.
After the speeches, protesters marched from the steps of the old Capitol building to the inside of the new Capitol building where they gathered between both chambers of the legislature. There students aligned themselves in rows and gave energetic speeches, told personal stories and chanted, as many state representatives, officials, media members and other bystanders watched.
“The reason this issue has come this far is because of the work SDS and our allies have put into struggling for tuition equity for undocumented students,” said Chrisley Carpio, an organizer with University of Florida SDS, in an impassioned speech. “We believe that every student in this country has the right to a higher education, and we won’t stop fighting until we make that a reality.”
HB851 and SB1400 have both received bipartisan support. Most recently, Governor Rick Scott has come out in favor of the bill giving qualified undocumented Florida students the ability to pay in-state tuition. His statement is the latest in a long list of supporters, including Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, various Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, and university administrators like University of Florida President Bernie Machen.
Despite the bipartisan support, the bills are becoming targets for political posturing, as legislators aim to make additions to the bills that would significantly water them down. Most glaringly, changes in the House bill require students to spend four consecutive years in high school to qualify for the in-state rate.
“This is just one step towards getting tuition equity for undocumented students, but it’s not enough,” said Veronica Juarez, an organizer with Tampa SDS and Raíces En Tampa. “Ultimately we will fight to have all the amendments removed because it’s not real tuition equity if there are still restrictions on the ability undocumented students have to get a higher education.”
Later in the evening after the event, HB851 passed on the House floor in a vote of 81-33. It is a huge victory, but the campaign still has a long way to go for true education equality. SDS is committed to making education accessible for every student in the U.S. and continues to work towards that goal until there is education for all.