Among the handful of veterans’ bills considered by Florida lawmakers this year was legislation that would have granted in-state tuition rates to all veterans using the Post 9-11 GI Bill.
The lower, in-state tuition waiver was a top priority for Florida student veterans.
State Rep. Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena sponsored the House bill.
“The senate wouldn’t hear it,” Peters said. “I’m extremely disappointed about it. The veterans’ organizations are upset about it. The veterans’ school organizations are upset about it.”
Peters has two theories why in-state tuition for student veterans failed. She thinks her bill was hurt when it was combined with a committee bill. Also, she said concerns about cost could have killed it.
“My personal belief, the House’s belief was that waiver that fiscal impact is something we shouldn’t be concerned about and we should make sure our veterans have the opportunity to come to Florida.” Peters said.
Only about a dozen states have enacted laws to make sure GI Bill students don’t get charged out-of-state tuition. But the benefit is becoming a draw as more young men and women leave the military and begin using their GI Bill education benefits.
“They (student veterans) will definitely go to places like Texas, Virginia that have those opportunities for them,” said Ray Mollison, an Army veteran and president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association.
Mollison grew up in Florida so in-state tuition is not an issue for him, but it is for many of his colleagues.
“It’s definitely a setback,” Mollison said. “It kind of surprised us all, but there has been steady progress that has been made with the bill.”
He’s confident that instate tuition for vets will pass next year. He plans to rally the 1700 veterans at the USF Tampa campus and others to “bring a big voice” to be heard next time in Tallahassee.
Rep. Peters is optimistic about next year too.
“I will ask the speaker to leave it as a stand-alone bill,” Peters said. “Florida is the most veteran friendly state in the country and we have to keep working to make it even stronger and better.”