Some students protested tuition increases. Some lamented cuts to the Bright Futures scholarship program. And some said they were only after the extra credit. But when the 200 or so university students cheered, chanted and booed on the Capitol steps, they all seemed to have one common goal.
“Being a student means you’ve sometimes got to speak truth to power, and let them know where you stand,” Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said in preacher’s cadence, drawing wild cheers from the crowd.
Many of the students were en route to Tallahassee before dawn, on buses from the state’s 11 universities. Nearly three dozen attended from the University of South Florida. The rally came at a time when tuition has hiked 60 percent in four years, said Michael Long, chairman of the Florida Student Association.
The proposed House budget would bump tuition another 8 percent. Most universities also expect to seek an additional “differential” tuition of up to 7 percent. The Senate’s budget proposals are not out. “We don’t mind contributing to our education, as long as it’s reasonable,” Long said.
The Florida Student Association, which organized the rally, handed out pamphlets with three legislative goals.
• Maintain the current level of state funding.
• Increase money for Bright Futures but strengthen qualification requirements.
• Reject proposals pending in the Legislature that would allow the governor to appoint the student member on the Board of Governors. Traditionally, Florida Student Association members elect the position.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, in his speech, promised to protect Bright Futures and criticized former legislatures for misspending money that could have gone toward education. “For those who don’t know, Florida has the fifth-lowest tuition in the United States today,” he said. “Keep it that way!” a student shouted.