Arkansas Senator Joyce Elliott pushes for undocumented students higher education

Last week, Colorado became the 13th state to write a similar Law

LITTLE ROCK, AR- A state lawmaker makes another push for in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Last week, Colorado became the 13th state to write a law to allow undocumented students to have in-state college tuition.

Other states that have laws that extend in-state tuition to undocumented students are Texas, California, New York, Illinois, Utah and Massachusetts.

Arkansas State Senator Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, has tried to do the same in the past and hopes this year it will get the votes needed.

Senator Elliott filed "Postsecondary Education & Economic Act of 2013" SB915 on Monday. The bill would allow undocumented students who were brought here as small children an opportunity to receive in-state tuition rates at state colleges.

Currently, they're forced to pay much higher out of state rates, a situation that puts extreme financial pressure on the students and their families.

In 2005, with then-Republican Governor Mike Huckabee's support, a similar measure sponsored by Elliott when she was a state representative passed the House but narrowly failed in the Senate. Four years later, another attempt failed after Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, said the measure could violate federal law.

This time around her co-sponsors are Republican state senators in a Republican controlled legislature. Co-sponsors include Sen. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home), Rep. Les Carnine (R-Rogers), Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) and Rep. Sheilla Lampkin (D-Monticello).

Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, is a co-sponsor after opposing the measure in 2009. "I struggled with it four years ago … it was tough vote then," Key said Monday. "In intervening years I've realized I was wrong in my opinion on that narrow issue on tuition." 

Key said some Arkansas colleges and universities already offer in-state tuition to students from neighboring states. He said that benefit should be extended to all students who graduate high school in Arkansas.

"It doesn't make sense that we're going to hold a kid that has graduated from an Arkansas high school, gone to school with Arkansas kids, to some different standard based on something they had no control over," he said.

Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, author of a failed 2009 bill that sought to prohibit undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition, said it was "a little bit of a surprise to me" that Key would co-sponsor Elliott's bill.

"My position stays the same," Harris said.
Elliott says she is trying again because it's a human issue. "What law do we have in place that specifically punishes kids for the actions of their parents?" she asked.

A U.S. citizen, Adriana Alvarez is an advocate for the DREAM Act. She works with the Arkansas Coalition for a Dream. Alvarez grew up with undocumented friends who were brought to this country as babies, "In the state of Arkansas there are about 12, 000 undocumented students that could benefit."

She says some of her friends went to school from kindergarten to high school in Arkansas, but their goal to attend college is just a dream right now. The reason? Because undocumented students have to pay out of state tuition, costing two to three times more. Alvarez says, "The financial stress for my friends hit me through the heart and also motivated me that I have all these advantages to go to school."

Jeannie Burlsworth with Secure Arkansas says she'll be at the capitol once again to speak against the bill. "We can't support whoever comes into this country regardless of how they got here. This so-called "social justice" is actually social injustice. The way we look at it because this is not something tax payers feel like they have to fund."

Alvarez explains, "No financial aid, no scholarships, just in state tuition, same price as everyone else, that's it." She hopes the third time is the charm for Senator Joyce Elliott's attempt to pass the bill. "I'm sending emails, calling my representatives to make sure they support the bill."

Several Republican legislators said they were willing to consider the idea.

"We've already spent $120,000 dollars getting their K-12 education provided to them, and we need to make sure we recover that investment," said Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena. "So I want to see the details on it and see what we've got. I'm not sure at this point."

About 12 percent of the more than 156,000 students attending state-supported colleges and universities last year paid out-of-state tuition, at about twice the cost of in-state tuition, according to Brandi Hinkle, spokeswoman for the state Department of Higher Education.

The bill will go before the Senate Education Committee before being voted on by both chambers.

It reads that a student who has attended a secondary Arkansas school for three years must have a GED or graduated from an Arkansas high school. The student also and have proof you attended a school for three years.

An undocumented student would have to file an affidavit with her state college of choice stating that she intends to work towards becoming legal.
Katherina Yancy, News Reporter, KATV CH7

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