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Voters narrowly are favoring a proposal to give undocumented immigrant students in-state tuition, for now
The fate of a ballot measure that would help undocumented students who graduate from Arizona high schools afford college remained unclear after ballots counted Wednesday left it with 51% in support and 49% opposed.
With more than 600,000 ballots across the state yet to be counted, including roughly 360,000 in Maricopa County and another 150,000 in Pima County, Proposition 308 hangs in the balance.
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For now, its narrow lead is an encouraging sign for retired Republican state Senator Bob Worsley, who co-chairs the Yes on 308 campaign.
“I am optimistic that the yes vote will lead,” he said, in an emailed statement. “In the end, Prop. 308 will prevail, providing much-needed relief to Arizona students and strengthening our economy.”
More than 3,600 undocumented students who graduate from Arizona high schools every year stand to benefit from the more affordable higher education promised by Prop. 308. The measure would allow undocumented students who have spent at least two years in a high school in Arizona and graduated to pay in-state tuition and be eligible for state funded financial aid.
It would repeal parts of a law voters approved in 2006 that prohibited non-citizens from receiving state subsidized services — including in-state tuition and state funded scholarships or financial aid. Because it was originally created by a ballot measure, the only way to alter the law is for voters to authorize the change.
A 2019 ruling from the Arizona Board of Regents afforded some relief by allowing undocumented students who spent at least three years in an Arizona high school and graduated to pay 150% of in-state tuition, instead of forcing them to pay the high cost of out-of-state rates.
While a student with legal citizenship status can benefit from a base tuition rate of $10,978 at Arizona State University, an undocumented student who otherwise meets the same residency requirements pays about $16,467.
As many as 22 states have laws or policies that have expanded in-state tuition rates to undocumented youth, according to a July report from the National Immigration Law Center. Arizona is one of only six states which bars undocumented students from in-state tuition.
Critics of the measure argued that illegal residents shouldn’t have access to the same benefits as lawful citizens, and that allowing them to take advantage of state funded financial assistance and scholarships will increase taxes. A Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis posited a possible future impact on state spending if enrollment is incentivized at community colleges.
Supporters responded that the economic benefits reaped from an increase in college degrees would more than offset that. A report from the American Immigration Council, a pro-immigrant advocacy group, estimated that undocumented students could generate as much as $23 million in post-graduation wages and contribute to $4.9 million in annual tax revenues.
Opening up access to a college education would also help boost employment in areas suffering from a labor shortage, proponents add. The state is projected to be short 50,000 nurses by 2030 and 27% of teacher positions across the state are currently unfilled.
Prop. 308 garnered bipartisan support from Republican lawmakers as well as Democrats. Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044, which placed the proposition on the November ballot, was introduced by Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, and it passed both legislative chambers with the help of six Republican votes in addition to that of every Democratic lawmaker. Prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Karrin Taylor Robson, signed a letter urging voters to approve it.
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