Florida is on track to be the latest state to offer the children of undocumented immigrants residential rates on tuition at public universities, after a bill cleared the senate on Thursday.
Following a highly charged debate on the floor where lawmakers quoted the likes of Langston Hughes and Aristotle, Florida senators voted 26-13 in favor of the legislation, according to the Associated Press. If the bill is signed into law, Florida would be the 20th state in the Union to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
Governor Rick Scott called the passage of the bill through the senate “historic.”
“It’s an exciting day for every student that dreams of a college education,” he said at an impromptu press conference. “Children who grow up in this state now get the same tuition as their peers.”
Scott is up for re-election at the end of the year but currently lags 10 points behind his Democratic opponent and former governor Charlie Crist, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday. Analysts say he is attempting to curry favor with the state’s large Latino population.
And more than a dozen fellow Republicans were less than enthused about potentially losing out on an estimated $50 million if the bill is implemented.
“I know it feels good giving benefits away,” said Republican Senator Aaron Bean. “We are giving so many benefits to noncitizens … Does it matter even being an American citizen anymore?”
The bill is now headed back to the house, where representatives will vote to approve the minor changes in the senate before it is sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
If approved, undocumented students would pay the same tuition rates as residents if they have attended a Florida school for at least three years prior to graduating from high school.