Bill would deny in-state tuition to undocumented students

In a hastily-scheduled meeting, the House Higher Education Budget Committee on Thursday held a hearing on HB 2643, which would strip from state law the ability of undocumented Kansas students to pay in-state tuition rates at state institutions of higher education. KASB will testify against the bill on Monday. 

KASB policy supports legislation that would allow students who have attended Kansas high schools for a reasonable period of time and successfully completed a high school program and other requirements for college admission to pay resident tuition rates, regardless of whether these students are citizens of the United States. 

Committee chairman Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, is HB 2643’s sponsor. He said he introduced the measure at the request of a constituent. Jones’ southeast Kansas legislative district has a high rate of foster care placements; HB 2643 also attempts to increase college tuition assistance for foster care students.  

Jones said the last-minute scheduling of the hearing was due to the Legislature’s approaching Feb. 22 “turnaround” deadline. Bills not passed by their house of origin on that date will no longer be viable in the 2018 session. Jones said other legislative committees had declined to hear the bill so he scheduled it in his committee.  

The sole proponent of the bill on Thursday was Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been active in efforts against undocumented immigrants across the country. Kobach said he was testifying in his capacity as a private attorney and self-styled constitutional law expert.  

Kobach claimed Kansas and more than a dozen other states violate federal law by offering in-state tuition status to undocumented students. The Kansas law was enacted in 2004 and has withstood several legal challenges, including one brought by Kobach.  

The American Civil Liberties Union-Kansas, the Kansas Catholic Bishops Conference, Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka and several Kansas college students testified against the bill. 

ACLU policy director Vignesh Ganapathy testified that courts have consistently held that Kansas’ and a number of other in-state tuition laws comply with federal law. Ganapathy said HB 2643 is a “cynical’ attempt to pit foster care children against undocumented ones. 

Victors was sharply critical of the hearing’s last-minute scheduling. She said she had many constituents who wanted to testify against the bill but could not do so Thursday because of job or school commitments. “These kind of bills affect a lot of people’s lives,” Victors said. 

The hearing will continue at 3:30 p.m. Monday in Room 281-N in the Statehouse. 

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