Jose Abastida played sports in high school, made good grades and had high hopes of going to college.
But when he went to sign up at Valencia College, he was shocked to learn he'd have to pay out-of-state tuition, even though he has lived in Osceola County since 2006.
Abastida does not qualify for in-state tuition because he and his parents are undocumented immigrants from Honduras.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has, for years, rejected calls to change the law, but this spring the outcome could be different. Some influential lawmakers, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, are voicing support for in-state tuition for undocumented students.
"I believe there is a glaring, unfair inconsistency in the way we treat children living in Florida," Weatherford said in a statement. "The Federal government requires us to educate all children, whether they are illegal or legally in the state. And yet, after they go through our public schools, we somehow pretend they are no longer Floridians."
Senate President Don Gaetz, on the other hand, opposes allowing students who were brought into the country illegally to pay in-state rates. He said it seems unfair to allow these students to enjoy the same financial benefits as natural-born U.S. citizens and those who have gone through the correct immigration channels to become citizens.
But Gaetz said an unofficial tally this week indicated that almost half of the Senate supports a change. "Right now, it's a divided Senate," he said.
Gov. Rick Scott has said he would "certainly consider" changing the law.
Abastida, who graduated from Poinciana High School in 2011, plans to travel to Tallahassee with other Valencia students to speak out about the issue.
"I was very upset because I didn't understand. Why me? Why was I so different?" said 22-year-old Abastida, who put off college while he saved money and then, for the first four semesters at Valencia, could only afford two or three courses at a time before he got some financial help.
In-state tuition is more than three times less than the out-of-state rate. Florida residents working toward an associate degree at Valencia pay about $3,000 for 30 credit hours, or two semesters of classes. Undocumented students are charged more than $11,000 for the same course load.
It is unclear how many students would benefit. Florida had an estimated 950,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2012, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
Seventeen other states, including Texas and California, allow undocumented students to pay in-state rates, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Two states — Alabama and South Carolina — prohibit undocumented students from attending public colleges and universities.
The bill that Weatherford supports — HB 851 — would allow all students to qualify as residents for tuition if they attend a Florida secondary school for three consecutive years immediately before graduating high school and then apply to enroll in college within 24 months after graduation.
State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said he supports in-state tuition for undocumented students. But he is concerned that such a change could prompt a legal challenge from U.S. citizens living in other states, who still will be required to pay the much higher, out-of-state tuition rate.
The change is supported by many higher-education leaders, including all community-college presidents and the presidents of the University of Central Florida, University of Florida and Florida State University.
Last year, Florida schools did lower tuition for some children of undocumented immigrants — those who are U.S. citizens. The move came after a federal court ruled in late 2012 that it was unconstitutional to do otherwise.
At the university level, especially, the savings would be huge. Florida residents who enrolled at UF this school year paid about $6,300 in tuition and fees for two semesters of classes. Undocumented students are charged almost $29,000.
UF President Bernie Machen said he hates to see some of the state's top students, including high-school valedictorians, effectively blocked from higher education because of their immigration status.
"The state is losing out on some really talented people who can be part of our 21st-century work force," he said.
Abastida, who wants to become a doctor or attorney, will graduate with honors with an associate degree from Valencia this summer. He was student president of Valencia's Osceola campus in 2012-13 and is the current president of the campus' American Medical Student Association.
He said he worked 50-hour weeks doing landscaping and construction to pay tuition before he won two private scholarships and received other financial help in late 2013.
He hopes his youngest sister, age 11, will qualify for cheaper tuition. His other sister, Estefany, 20, can only afford a class or two per semester at Valencia. At that rate, it could take her a decade to finish an associate degree.
"I don't want them to go through the same thing I went through," he said.