Tennessee Lawmakers to Take Up Tuition Equality Bill

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) – Supporters of legislation to make children of people living in the country illegally eligible for in-state tuition say the proposal is fair and would benefit the state's economy.

The measure, called the Tuition Equality bill, was scheduled to be heard in the House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday.

Currently, such students pay nearly three times as much for higher education – the out-of-state rate – even if they've lived in Tennessee for most of their lives.

"We can't keep punishing children for what their parents did or didn't do," said Senate sponsor Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

Under the proposal, a student would have to meet academic standards and attend Tennessee schools for at least five years before graduating from high school.

Proponents of the legislation say it would benefit the state with increased funding from in-state tuition and, they hope, produce more graduates who can contribute to the workforce.

"Every time a student pays in-state tuition, the state makes money, higher education makes money," said Eben Cathey, spokesman for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. "All around, this bill is a net gain for the entire state."

At least 19 states have enacted similar legislation, according to the coalition.

Also Tuesday, the subcommittee was scheduled to take up a proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam that would create a free community college program for all high school graduates by using state lottery reserves to cover the difference between tuition costs and all available aid.

The Republican governor's proposal would require students to exhaust all possible support by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which requires a Social Security number.

Haslam told reporters last month that the Tuition Equality bill has some merit but that he doesn't plan to change his own free tuition proposal to include those same students.

Haslam said removing the requirement to fill out the federal form would cause the cost of the tuition plan to become too high for the state.

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