Smart column from Trib’s Tom Jackson: In-state tuition for undocumented students a “smart course”

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Using anecdotes is not an ideal strategy for public policy says Tom Jackson of the Tampa Tribune; so the story of Peruvian native Mariana Castro should be seen with a fair amount of skepticism.

Castro is an undocumented Floridian whose parents entered the U.S. illegally when she was 10. She entered the school system — as mandated by federal law—applying herself to a level where is now accepted to the prestigious neurobiological science program at the University of Florida.

With her undocumented status, Castro is not eligible for in-state Florida tuition, making her UF education $28,548 a year, triple the amount it would be had she received legal status. It could be a “deal breaker,” derailing a promising career.

As she spoke in the state Senate chambers in Tallahassee, Castro’s dilemma is just one of several in the same situation, Jackson notes.

Castro’s situation makes for an attractive argument; allowing easier access to some of Florida’s colleges and universities for the “best and brightest,” regardless of immigration status of the parents.

In another editorial, Republican state House Speaker Will Weatherford announced supporting Florida’s children to pay in-state tuition, as long as they are academically qualified and attended a Florida high school. Weatherford calls it a “moral dimension that cannot be ignored.”

Washington D.C. is at somewhat of a standstill over immigration issues, with threats of reforms potentially damaging already fragile 2014 re-election efforts. This leaves action up to the states, which 17 states have already done by allowing in-state tuition for children who, through no fault of their own, are undocumented.

Arguments on immigration reform ultimately revolve around a “brain drain,” where foreign nationals take advantage of U.S. education, only to leave the country after graduation, to avoid pushing aside native-born Americans in the job market.

Although the states cannot do anything about immigration status, Weatherford does support an initiative Florida can take. The number of foreign-born children of undocumented immigrants attending Florida schools as of 2010 is 60,000, at a cost of about $700 million a year to the state.

Federal law requires those children to an education, regardless of residency status.

After children spend 13 years and more than $100,000 in public school, Weatherford says it simply wasteful to deny high school graduates an in-state opportunity, just over a residency status they have no control over.

It is not anecdotal policymaking, Jackson says, it is a smart course of action.

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.