The Gardenhire/White bills SB1014/HB863 granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students are moving through their respective chambers. As reported by The Tennessee Star, the Senate Education Committee passed Gardenhire’s bill last week in a 7-2 vote. Yesterday, the House Education Subcommittee on Planning & Administration was passed on a voice vote by Republican members Harry Brooks, Mark White, Eddie Smith and Democrats John DeBerry and Johnnie Turner. Rep. Dawn White asked to be recorded as a no vote.
The House bill is scheduled to be heard by the full Education Planning & Administration Committee next Tuesday, and the Senate bill has been referred to Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee.
Gardenhire’s first attempt in 2014, never made it out of the Education Committee. The 2015 version of the Gardenhire/White bill passed the Senate 21-12. Despite a 49-47 House vote in favor of the bill it failed to achieve the constitutionally required 50 vote minimum.
Illegal immigrant students including any student granted a temporary two-year deferred deportation under Obama’s DACA program, are ineligible for federal financial aid for school. However, states and individual schools have discretion to provide financial assistance.
Tennessee’s HOPE lottery scholarship can be used at both four and two year higher education institutions whereas the TN Promise last dollar scholarship was intended for two-year schools or a TN College of Applied Technology, and only applies after all other funding sources have been used.
The Tennessee Star contacted Sen. Gardenhire and asked whether the students made eligible for in-state tuition by his bill, SB1014, would also be eligible for either the HOPE scholarship or the TN Promise program. Gardenhire responded:
“Chris, these kids don’t receive either of these benefits you mentioned. As far as I know, they do not receive any other education benefits. Also, two more important points. There has to be a vacancy at the school before they can be admitted (because of that, this has a very positive fiscal note). Second, we are making them pay the same thing as their fellow students they went through secondary school with.”
Nothing in the bill language that has been passed by the Senate Education Committee or the House Education Subcommittee states that illegal immigrant students paying in-state tuition at Tennessee colleges and universities must wait for a seat not otherwise awarded to a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant.
In fact, the fiscal note attached to the bill indicates that illegal immigrant students are already attending TN Board of Regents and University of Tennessee schools and paying out-of-state tuition.
Before voting to support Gardenhire’s bill, Sen. Jim Tracy said he wanted to help UT Martin fill their open seats because “we need more students in college…we are not at full capacity now…I’m just trying to reach more students.”
Gardenhire and White have repeatedly made the case for their bill based on the higher cost of out-of-state tuition rates making college economically inaccessible to illegal immigrant students.
Last week, the TN Board of Regents’ General Counsel informed the House Education Subcommittee that SB1014/HB863 creates an exception to Tennessee’s “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act” law which classifies in-state tuition as a state benefit that would otherwise be unavailable to anyone with an illegal immigration status.
If Tennessee’s legislators are able to change this state law to accommodate illegal immigrant students, it stands to reason that they might consider modifying other state laws that make illegal immigrant students eligible to receive state financial aid.