Legislation that would allow public universities and community colleges to set a new tuition rate for every student who graduates from an Arizona high school, regardless of immigration status, is ready to be considered by the full Senate.
Senate Bill 1217, as it was amended by a Senate committee, also exempts postsecondary education from the definition of a state or local public benefit.
While Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, bill mentions nothing in her bill about immigration status, SB 1217 will cover dreamers, a group of immigrant youth who have temporary protections from deportation.
Dreamers are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a temporary federal program created in 2012 for certain immigrants who arrived in the country as children. The issue of in-state tuition for dreamers in Arizona has been tense and emotional one.
The Maricopa County Community Colleges District allowed DACA recipients to pay resident tuition rates, and then-state Attorney General Tom Horne sued, arguing the district violated a voter-approved law to deny people without lawful immigration status access to state benefits, including in-state student status and financial assistance for public colleges and universities. The Arizona Supreme Court last year ruled against the community colleges.
The bill passed the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee Feb.4, with six Republican and Democrat legislators affirmative votes. Business leaders, education advocates and students gave personal testimonies during the hearing.
“I think this is an exciting time, and this is a giant first step forward. To think how far we’ve come as an elected body,” Carter said before her vote on the bill, stressing her proposal “had a long ways to go.”
She called it a “historic first step” and held back tears when thanking the students who spoke and attended the hearing.
“We’re going to keep on working to get this done,” Carter said.
It’s likely the bill will run into concerted opposition if it is heard on the Senate floor. The measure received a rare no vote in the Rules Committee, which determines whether bills are constitutional before clearing them for floor action. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, voted against the bill in Rules.
“I do believe reasonable arguments can be made on both sides,” committee staffer Rich Horner told the committee Monday. “With that being said, I do maintain my recommendation from last week that Senate Bill 1217 is constitutional.”
Horner said the bill does not supercede Proposition 300, which voters approved in 2006. That measure deals with in-state tuition rates only, while Carter’s bill creates a separate tuition rate.
In 2015, the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body for the state’s three public universities, created a special rate for DACA recipients that is 50-percent higher than in-state tuition.
Currently, tuition in the MCCCD costs almost four times higher for non-residents. At the public universities, tuition for non-residents is more than twice as expensive — for Arizona State University it’s 2.6 percent higher, at Northern Arizona University is 2.2 percent higher and it’s 2.9 percent higher at University of Arizona.
There are two proposals in each chamber, SCR 1002 and HCR 2007, that aim to repeal Proposition 300.