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UF Students Welcome Bill Proposing Tax-Free Textbooks

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A Florida Senate bill seeking the elimination of the sales tax from course texts assigned at any state college or university is moving forward.

SB 938 was approved with a 9-0 vote from the Committee on Higher Education on March 23.

Students at the University of Florida paid an average of $15,943 for their education in 2014. That figure includes tuition, university fees and room and board but excludes textbooks.

University of Florida senior Francesca Rocca said she has spent between $200 and $300 on all of her textbooks each semester.

Piling on to her education bills, she said, was not something she wanted to do. With each passing semester, she learned new ways of lowering her out-of-pocket cost for required textbooks, such as purchasing used or buy-back books from local stores, like the UF Bookstore or The Florida Bookstore.

It took her two years, but she said she was finally able to bring down her total cost for textbooks to below $200 per semester.

“(After two years) I’ve never paid full price for a book,” Rocca said. “I’ve always tried to spend $30 to $40 max if I can, per book.”

Rocca is just one of many students who has felt a burden after paying for these extra costs, a main focus of Gov. Rick Scott’s “Keep Florida Working” budget.

The plan, announced this January, aims to lower the cost of post-secondary education as a whole, starting with pricy textbooks.

Lynne Vaughan, director of the University of Florida Bookstore, said the idea is not something new, citing Virginia and South Carolina as states that eliminated sales taxes on college textbooks years ago.

Vaughan believes a tax break could benefit students and teachers by allowing automatic savings without having to settle for cheaper, older or destroyed books to save money.

The measure also considers other methods of reducing costs to students, such as implementing tuition increase restrictions and providing students with textbook prices before they register for classes.

WUFT reached out to the University of Florida for comment but was told the university does not have an official statement on the matter because the bill is still in its early stages.

According to a press release from Gov. Rick Scott’s office, eliminating the sales tax on these textbooks could save Florida students more than $41 million per year, or about $60 per year for a student taking five courses in a semester.

This is not the first time college students in Florida have looked to legislators for lower textbook costs. Similar bills were introduced in 2005 and 2006 to decrease costs to students, already paying large sums of money just in tuition fees, but neither passed.

Senate leaders stripped the measure down last month, removing some original provisions after professors in Tallahassee discovered some potential problems.

One of the more controversial elements was a provision that would force teachers to use the same version of a text for at least three years before switching over to another book or a new edition.

However, Rocca said her method for finding cheaper textbooks wouldn’t work when professors upgraded to newer editions each semester, meaning no cheaper or used versions were available.

“I really don’t think that three years is a difference in what we’re going to be learning or how the department is changing,” she said. “I think if it was like five to 10 years, the textbooks should definitely be changed.”

Vaughan, on the other hand, agrees with legislators. She said said the upgrade provision could have posed an issue in the long run.

“(The teachers) want to stay current,” Vaughan said. “When you look at your sciences, and you look at your medical books and in any of that, there’s a lot of changes.”

She said if publishers release a new edition and stop making an older version of a text, professors cannot request books with limited amounts of copies for their courses. That, in turn, could limit a professor’s ability to choose material for his or her courses.

“They want to use something they’re comfortable with, something they believe in, and it could be one book this time, it could be another book another time,” Vaughn said. “Because they found it and they like it, and that’s their freedom.”

The bill will now move on to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education before going before the Committee on Appropriations.

About Nicole Acevedo

Nicole is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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