Posted 1/13/2013 02:30 pm
Updated 5 months ago
LITTLE ROCK — A proposal to allow in-state tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants in Arkansas is likely to resurface in the upcoming legislative session.
State Sen. Joyce Elliott said she plans to introduce another bill that would grant the in-state rates to anyone who has attended an Arkansas high school for at least three years and has an Arkansas high school diploma or general education diploma in the state.
Supporters say such a measure would offer higher education opportunities to students who came to the U.S. illegally as children and who currently have to pay out-of-state rates despite having grown up and gone to school here.
"If you operate on the assumption that these are not our kids and they're just going to be sent somewhere, that's not going to happen," said Elliott, D-Little Rock. "So how do you want them to be prepared to be citizens who can contribute to the best of their abilities?"
Elliott's planned proposal would come months after President Barack Obama announced last year that some young illegal immigrants would be allowed temporary status and work permits. Voters in Maryland also recently approved in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions.
Still, Elliott acknowledges it would be challenging to pass such a bill here in the coming session, which begins Monday. Republicans now control the Arkansas Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction — a marked change from 2005 and 2009 when similar measures on in-state tuition rates failed.
In 2005, a similar bill failed even though it had the backing of then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Elliott pushed forward with another similar proposal again in 2009, but by then, she lacked the support of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who had said the measure could violate federal law.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample would not say Friday whether the governor would sign such a bill into law this time around if it were to reach his desk.
"The issue needs to be addressed in (Washington) D.C. because... you have an increasing number of college graduates who were educated here, all the way through elementary and high school, went to college and then they graduate from college and have a degree that they can't legally put to use in Arkansas," DeCample said.
Out-of-state tuition rates in Arkansas are about twice the in-state rates. In fall 2012, about 12.5 percent of the 156,252 students who were enrolled in public colleges and universities paid out-of-state tuition, according to Arkansas Department of Higher Education spokeswoman Brandi Hinkle.
Some educators have spoken out in favor of in-state tuition rates for students who came to the U.S. illegally as children but who have grown up and gone to school here.
"If you look at it from the standpoint of just the state of Arkansas... it would also be in our best interest to remove those barriers and open the doors as wide as we can to as much education as persons that Sen. Elliott's legislation would affect want to get," said Joel Anderson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Not everyone agrees.
"I think in-state tuition should only be to in-state residents or those who have been granted a waiver through some agreement with another state," said House Majority Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.