University students rally at the Capitol

By Doug Blackburn

Star Manning came to Tallahassee to go to college because she wanted to be close to friends she made during her time as a U.S. Marine.

Manning, 31, a native of Los Angeles, first earned her associate’s degree at Tallahassee Community College. The GI Bill covered her school costs.

But when she transferred to the journalism program at Florida A&M, Manning was disappointed to learn that there was not enough money left in her GI Bill account to pay her tuition as an out-of-state student.

“Not all educators can understand talking to a veteran,” Manning said. “We’re younger, and we’re coming back now. We need help just like anyone else.”

That help may be on the way. Bills to change the tuition rate for all honorably discharged veterans — no matter what state they are from — to the in-state rate have been approved by both chambers of the Florida Legislature.

It is one of three issues that the Florida Student Association lobbied for Wednesday during “Rally in Tally” day at the Capitol, an event that overlapped with two prominent annual activities at the Capitol: Florida A&M Day and Ambassadors for the Aging Day.

Seven different university student body presidents, led by North Florida’s Carlo Fossi, were in attendance for the rally on the fourth floor of the Capitol. They are also supporting in-state tuition for undocumented graduates of Florida high schools. Their final issue is support for the Board of Governors’ request for $321 million for all 11 universities’ infrastructure, repair and maintenance of buildings and new projects.

The student leaders were joined by a number of elected officials, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Rep. Jeannette Nunez, R-Miami, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Nunez, with the support of House Speaker Will Weatherford, has shepherded a bill through her chamber that would enable the children of undocumented workers to pay in-state tuition at Florida’s universities. Latvala has included the measure in a sweeping education bill that would also reduce differential tuition from 15 percent and eliminate the automatic cost of living increase for tuition.

“The overall theme,” he said, “is to reduce the cost of higher education.”

Rosie Contreras, student body president at Florida State, has spoken more than once on behalf of Florida students who are not eligible to receive in-state tuition rates as a result of their parents’ citizenship status.

“Fighting for these students is fighting for a brighter, more educated Florida. When our state’s young people succeed, our state benefits,” Contreras said. “When our state’s young people drop out of school, fail to achieve their goals, our state fails.

This is about the importance of education to our state and our economy.”

This article appeared on Tallahassee on March 26, 2014

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