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 Thursday, 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 busses from the state’s 11 universities. Thirty-three 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 up tuition another 15 percent. The Senate’s budget proposals are not yet released.
“We don’t mind contributing to our education, as long as it’s reasonable,” he 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-Melbourne), 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.
Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, praised lawmakers for pushing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM).
“It will ensure that the next PalmPilot or BlackBerry isn’t founded in California in the Silicon Valley,” he said. “The next generation of technology will be right here in the Sunshine State.”
Abdool Aziz, a USF biology senior, said he shares the sentiment but thinks politicians shouldn’t go too far.
“If you really like English, you shouldn’t be punished,” he said. “You’re paying for it. It’s your future.”