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VOL. 39 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 3, 2015

Tuition equality bill headed to full Senate

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Tennessee residents who are authorized to be in the United States would be eligible for in-state tuition under legislation that advanced in the state Legislature on Tuesday.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire, of Chattanooga, was approved 7-3 in the Senate Finance Committee and will be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.

The companion bill later passed a House education committee on a floor vote.

Under the proposal, students considered lawfully present in the U.S. through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would qualify for in-state tuition.

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.

Eben Cathey, spokesman for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, describes individuals in DACA as being in sort of a "limbo stage."

The c an apply for "lawful presence" and receive a work permit if they meet criteria that includes having no criminal record; have lived in the U.S. for at least five years continuously; and have graduated from a high school, received a GED, or be currently enrolled in an educational program.

"They're not on the pathway to citizenship ... but they're lawfully allowed to be here," Cathey said.

The legislation, which failed last year, gained momentum in the legislative process this year once it was amended to apply to students only in the DACA program.

Before the change, opponents of the measure - mostly Republicans - were concerned such a proposal might encourage illegal immigration.

"I think with that amendment that I can vote for it," Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters later Tuesday. "Before that amendment went on, I wasn't real sure."

Cathey said the change reduces eligibility from about 25,000 students to roughly 15,000, but he called the legislation a "tremendous step forward."

"This is good public policy," he said. "It's good for our economy, and it's good for all the students that are here that need a fair rate for school."

Ginger Hausser is director of external affairs for the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. She said the board supports the legislation.

"We know that as a state we're better off when folks get educated," Hausser said. "This is their opportunity."

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