Everyone in Tallahassee wants lower tuition, few agree on how to do it

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Everyone in the Florida Capitol seems to want to lower college tuition in 2014 — from Gov. Rick Scott to House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.

But there is not as much agreement on how to do it, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Several factors remain in dispute: how much colleges and universities can raise prices without legislative approval, how to go about allowing in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, and returning the power to set new four-year degrees for state universities to the Legislature.

Several tuition bills have emerged as battlegrounds for lawmakers and the governor, all seeking concessions as the reach a shared goal.

Limiting “differential tuition” between state schools is only one of the high-profile bills facing the House this year, passed by the House appropriations Committee on Thursday by a 19-7 vote — which also included language on another hot button issue, in-state tuition for certain classes of undocumented immigrants.

The immigration terminology received most of the brief discussion on HB 851, although the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jeanette Nunez, also praised the inclusion of the differential tuition issue.

“In fact, we’re actually taking additional steps to reduce the burden on all of our students and their families,” she told the News Service.

Earlier, Scott indicated he might support another Senate measure on the immigration issue, SB 1400, introduced by Sen. Jack Latvala, which mirrors the House in-state tuition bill.

“(Latvala) understands the problem of high tuition,” Scott said. “The problem of significant debt on our students, so I like his bill.”

“I’m sure the Legislature is going to continue to look at his bill, but I like his bill,” he added, but did not come out and say he would sign the bill.

Another option was a trade — in-state immigrant tuition for repealing the differential — but Weatherford also told the News Service it was too early in the session to talk about trade-offs.

A third legislation (SB 1148) was introduced to reduce the differential from 15 to 6 percent, but it was amended Wednesday to include taking away the ability for the State Board of Education to accept new four-year degrees. It is part of a crackdown by Senate Education Appropriations Chair Bill Galvano to prevent state colleges from competing one-on-one with the state universities.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.