Bill to repeal in-state tuition for some undocumented students stalls

After two public meetings and sometimes contentious testimony, the chairman of the House Higher Education Budget Committee on Monday decided against trying to advance a bill that would repeal the state’s policy of allowing some undocumented students, who have graduated from Kansas high schools, to receive the benefit of in-state tuition. 

HB 2643, which KASB opposed, would have done away with a state law adopted in 2004 that has allowed hundreds of students to pay the in-state, or resident, tuition rates at state higher education institutions, which is much lower than the rate paid by students who live outside Kansas to attend a Kansas institution. Most of these students were young children when brought to the United States by their parents. 

Supporters of repealing the in-state tuition benefit said the students are breaking federal immigration law and shouldn’t pay less than American citizens who live in another state. 

But those who want to keep the law as is said these students were making Kansas better by pursuing higher education and professions in the state. Many testified about how the students have succeeded and are helping the communities they live in as teachers, business people and other professionials. 

In some ways, the testimony mirrored the national debate going about how the country should deal with the children, also called “Dreamers,” who have lived here most of their lives although they are not citizens. 

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had testified last week in support of the bill, saying those who want to stay in the United States should leave and pursue legal immigration channels. But immigration experts said such a process could take decades and that many of these young people have no recollection or connection to the country where they were born. 

State Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, said he believed the intent of the legislation, which has come up repeatedly, is racist. He implied election politics may be behind why the bill was considered, noting that Kobach and the committee chairman Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, were the ones who brought the bill and both are seeking higher office. Kobach is running for the Republican nomination for governor and Jones is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2nd U.S. House District seat. 

At the end of public testimony on the measure, Jones said, “I am not going to move forward on working this bill.” Based on comments from committee members during the meetings, it was doubtful there were enough votes to advance the bill. It should be noted that the contents of the bill could re-surface during the session as an amendment to another bill on the floor of the House or Senate, which has happened on this issue many times in the past. KASB will continue to monitor the situation on this proposal. 

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