Florida immigrant tuition ruling won't be appealed

Florida education officials say they will not appeal a federal court ruling that bars state colleges and universities from charging higher out-of-state tuition rates to Florida residents who are US citizens but dependent on illegal immigrant parents.

The State Board of Education unanimously voted against an appeal on Tuesday at a meeting in Boca Raton.

On another racial and ethnic issue, board members again said they are committed to a goal of reading and math proficiency for all public school students but did not back down from a new strategic plan that sets lower five-year goals for minority students. That provision has drawn opposition from Gov. Rick Scott and others.

The board, which also oversees Florida's 28 community and state colleges, unanimously voted to comply with an injunction against the immigrant tuition rules.

"I just got off the phone with Miami-Dade College and they have 240 students who will be impacted by this," said board member Roberto "Bobby" Martinez, who participated by telephone. "They have complied with the judgment without any problems."

Broward College President J. David Armstrong also told the panel he and his counterparts at the other schools do not object to the court ruling and oppose an appeal.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled last month in Miami that charging higher tuition to students due to their parents' immigration status violates their equal protection rights. The decision will reduce tuition for those students beginning with the spring 2013 semester.

The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 12 public universities, isn't scheduled to consider an appeal at its meeting on Thursday in Sarasota.

Instead, State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan last week sent a letter to his schools' presidents advising on how to comply with the ruling. It requires presidents to send written notices of the decision to all dependent students by Nov. 14.

On the other matter, Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand noted the strategic plan adopted last month includes a footnote saying the eventual goal is reading and math proficiency for all students. While the five-year goals are lower for black and Hispanic students than for whites and Asians, they would narrow existing gaps between those groups.

"We have to acknowledge that there are different starting points among groups of students today," Chartrand said. "What is important now is that we focus on how we will achieve our goal."

Board member A.K. Desai said the panel "is absolutely 100 percent committed to make sure that 100 percent of the students ... are going to be 100 percent proficient at a future date."

Critics of the short-term goals, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, PTA, incoming Florida House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston and Florida's Republican governor, said it implies minority children cannot learn. Scott called that "unacceptable."

The board also declined to appeal an administrative law judge's decision that invalidates a new teacher evaluation rule because of violations of rule-making procedures. The rule is being redrafted to comply with the decision and is expected ready for board approval in early 2013.

"This is a self-inflicted wound and I want to make sure the message is clear that we're not walking away from the intent," said board member Kathleen Shanahan.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, challenged the rule that's designed to implement evaluation criteria required by a new state law.

The decision, though, did not invalidate local evaluation systems developed in connection with Florida's $700 million federal Race to the Top grant.

The board also agreed to let two charter schools, A.A. Dixon in Escambia County and Sweetwater Branch Academy in Alachua County, stay open although they received failing state grades for two straight years. The grades are based on student test scores.

The board agreed to grant waivers from a new state law that calls for closing such schools after members said they were reluctant to shut them in the midst of a school year. They plan to ask the Legislature to change the law so appeals can be decided earlier.

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