Lacking any consistent rationale, State Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), the perpetual sponsor of the Senate’s bills to give illegal alien students taxpayer-subsidized in-state tuition, last year co-sponsored a bill allowing judges to give illegal aliens convicted of felonies longer sentences based on their immigration status. The bill was signed into law in 2017.
While Gardenhire is willing to punish illegal aliens who commit crimes, he prefers to dismantle state law and reward parents for violating the country’s immigration laws, forcing Tennessee’s taxpayers to provide a free education for the children they brought with them.
English Language Learner (ELL) services in Tennessee’s public schools are funded through the state’s education funding formula called the BEP (Basic Education Program) and comes primarily from state and local revenue meaning that every Tennessee taxpayer shares in the cost regardless of which county’s schools are providing the services. State education funding provides 70 percent of the expenditure leaving the local share at 30 percent.
In fiscal year 2012, total funding for ELL services was $70 million with the state share at $49 million and the local share at $21 million. The most recent fiscal year’s total funding has grown to $122.3 million with the state share t $88.4 million and the local share at $33.9 million.
Gardenhire and State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis), sponsor of the House companion in-state tuition bills, have consistently misled their colleagues and the public by claiming their bills have nothing to do with immigration status. Their bills if passed, however, promise to shield illegal aliens by privatizing their immigration status as part of an education record.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd agrees that immigration status is irrelevant to filling seats in Tennessee’s colleges.
Boyd has a reciprocal relationship with the TN Educational Equity Coalition (TEEC), a coalition convened and led by Conexion Americas. In 2016, Randy and Jenny Boyd made the “single largest individual gift” of $250,000 to Conexion Americas. Renata Soto, the founder and director of Conexion Americas serves on the board of Boyd’s non-profit Complete Tennessee, which in turn, serves as a state partner to the TEEC.
Both Complete Tennessee and the TEEC say they want to address “equity gaps” in the education provided to Tennessee students.
Equitable access to in-state tuition rates was not part of the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision in Plyer v. DOE. That case held that public schools must grant illegal immigrant children a free K-12 education as they would for any other student.
The federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), however, prohibits state colleges and universities from providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants “on the basis of residence within the State” unless the same in-state rates are offered to all U.S. citizens.
This law and others are designed to disincentivize illegal immigration. And while federal law permits states to grant public benefits like in-state tuition to illegal aliens by passing state legislation, it also sanctions illegal immigration to and within that state.
The Gardenhire bill that will be voted on in the Senate Education Committee today, relies on a residency requirement as part of determining whether an illegal alien is eligible for in-state tuition.
White was the only House member present who chose to abstain from voting on the 2017 bill allowing judges to increase sentences for criminal illegal aliens. That bill passed the House on a 67-13-1 vote.