In the four months since Florida began charging tuition for adult education programs, enrollment has dropped dramatically, prompting concern from some lawmakers that the Legislature may have gone too far.
Since requiring not only tuition, but also documentation to determine residency, enrollment in adult education classes offered at colleges has dropped 45 percent and enrollment offered through some school districts has dropped 38 percent, according to preliminary data by the state Department of Education.
The one possible silver lining here is that it could provide an opportunity to learn more about which each of these additional requirements — the tuition fees or the residency documentation requirement — had more of an impact. I don’t know if anyone in Florida is collecting data to determine the answer to this question, but it would be useful for advocates and policymakers to know the answer. When this law went into effect, I suspected the residency documentation was a much bigger deal than the tuition, and some of my colleagues in Florida agreed with me. Immigrants who are legal residents nonetheless are often nervous about presenting the wrong documentation to persons in positions of authority. In light of current events in neighboring states, such nervousness does not seem irrational to me.
People assume this is an issue that only impacts immigrants, but that’s not the case. I know from experience that a surprising number of people have trouble coming up with the paperwork needed to prove residency (homeless individuals are an obvious — but not the only — example). Folks attempting to enroll in adult education for the first time are often easily discouraged. I can easily imagine people showing up to enroll, and after being told they need to come back with residency documentation, never return.
And there’s this:
One unintended consequence has been the impact tuition has had on inmates in Florida’s jails, prisons and juvenile justice facilities. Because of new requirements that require documentation to prove residency, and the tuition, some inmates cannot register for or pay for the classes, lawmakers said.
Maybe unintended, but I don’t understand how this could not have been anticipated by those who supported the law.
UPDATE (11/22/11): Just for clarification’s sake, I should have noted that non-residents of Florida are not barred from enrolling in adult education classes in Florida — they just have to pay more. So if you don’t have the documentation to prove you are a Florida resident, you could just opt to pay the (substantially) greater fee. But I don’t think that lessens the chilling effect of having any kind of proof-of-residency rules attached to enrollment.