TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In support of Florida's working families, Democratic legislators on the Florida House Education Committee today voted in opposition to a Republican leadership bill that would allow unlimited tuition hikes for at least some public universities in Florida.
Under the no-cap tuition hike plan (PCB-EDC 12-02), the cost for students and working families to attend certain public universities would increase at levels potentially far higher than even the 15-percent tuition hikes being considered in state budget proposals. The tuition hikes surface in the same legislative session in which House Republican leaders are proposing to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget for higher education.
"Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed (D-Deerfield Beach) spoke against the bill. "I know our university system is in dire need to have the appropriate instructional personnel," she said. "But when we talk about raising tuition with no cap, I have a problem with that."
"I will not support anything that comes on the backs of our students who are already struggling," said Rep. Martin Kiar (D-Parkland) during debate on the bill. Representative Kiar also noted that allowing major spikes in tuition could undermine Florida's popular Prepaid Tuition program. "I think (the tuition hikes) will make this great program obsolete, and that gives me grave concerns.
Rep. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), the Democratic ranking member on the committee, said the Legislature has too heavily relied on tuition hikes in recent years as a means of improving universities. "I've argued for a dedicated source of funding for education since I ran for office, and to date, we haven't responded," said Bullard. "We all acknowledge the need for a better educational environment. But I have a hard time putting that burden on the students and parents who are faced with stagnant incomes and unemployment rates at over 10 percent."
Rep. Betty Reed (D-Tampa) said she sympathizes with university officials' desire to find adequate funding for their programs, which she indicated is a factor in why she has previously supported tuition-differential plans for the universities. "But at this time, it is one of the most difficult times that we could (consider increasing) the cost of education," said Rep. Reed. "I know the numbers of students who are really struggling, and the economy is still not as good as we need it. On this day, I have say no to this."
Rep. Cynthia Stafford (D-Miami) voted against the bill and later explained that the proposal would amount to a "double shot" against Florida's universities, noting that the no-cap tuition hike may come in addition to an additional tuition hike in the state budget that House Republicans have proposed.
Rep. Luis Garcia (D-Miami) said: "It's time to draw a line in the sand. Every year, we keep going back to our students for more. I am drawing a line in the sand and I'm not going to vote for it."