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In-state tuition for Dreamers 1 step closer

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) supporters march in Phoenix on Sept. 5, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A Senate panel took the first steps Tuesday to reversing a policy that denies in-state tuition to “dreamers” at state universities and community colleges.

Legislation approved by the Education Committee would repeal a 2006 voter-approved law which spells out that anyone not in this country legally is not entitled to residential tuition. In its place, SCR 1044 would say that those who meet other residency requirements and graduate from an Arizona high school do qualify.

The proposal by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, drew just a handful of opposition, mainly through comments posted online.

But final approval is far from certain.

First, the measure now needs to clear the full Senate. And two Republicans on the panel Tuesday voted against it.

Beyond that, there’s no guarantee that all the Democrats will support it.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said she supports what Boyer is trying to do for affected students.

But she complained that SCR 1044 does not fully repeal all of Proposition 300, the 2006 ballot measure. That also cut off those who are not in this country legally from other benefits, including child care and adult education.

Because of that, Gonzales said she may vote against this proposal when it reaches the Senate floor.

Boyer conceded the point but urged her to consider.

“What I would say to you is, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great,” he said. “And this is a great bill.”

More to the point, Boyer said it is questionable at best whether he could get the votes in the Republican-controlled legislature for full repeal of Proposition 300. And then there’s the fact this needs ratification at the ballot in 2022 because the original law was enacted by voters.

At the heart of the matter is that 2006 initiative, part of a series of measures debated and approved more than a decade ago aimed at those not in the country legally. It was approved by more than 71 percent of those who voted.

In 2012 the Obama administration approved Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allows those who were brought into this country illegally as children who meet certain conditions to both remain and work.

Based on that, the Maricopa County Community College governing board concluded DACA recipients were here legally and entitled to in-state tuition. Then, when a trial judge ruled in their favor, the state Board of Regents adopted the same policy as did some other college districts, including Pima.

All of that came crashing down when the state Court of Appeals ruled the policy illegal, a decision upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Since then, the regents have adopted what they believe is an acceptable compromise: Dreamers pay tuition at the rate of 150% of what is charged to in-state students. That is designed to be a rate that covers the actual cost of education, sidestepping the legal question of whether DACA recipients were having their tuition subsidized by state dollars.

But that still can end up costing an extra $6,000 a year at a state university. Boyer’s plan, if approved by voters, seeks to eliminate that disparity.

Rep. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said the proposal makes sense.

On one hand, he noted, the resident tuition is subsidized, not only by state taxpayers but also by higher tuition charged to out-of-state and international students.

“We can’t give in-state tuition to everybody,” Pace said. But he said there’s a larger question at issue here.

“At what point are you an Arizonan and do you get the benefit of being an Arizonan?” Pace asked. And the answer, he said, appears to be in SCR 1044.

He said the test set up by Boyer appears to suggest that those who would be able to use this are those who intend to stay here, plan to grow their families here, will be paying taxes here, and will benefit the Arizona economy.

That test specifically includes attending or graduating from a public or private high school or having been home-schooled while physically present in the state for at least two years. And Pace said he doesn’t see this as being a drain on state dollars.

“The finances of this make sense to me,” he said. “We’re going to recoup the money through an economic benefit long term.”

And what of the fact that, strictly speaking, DACA recipients may not technically be legally present in the country?

“That’s a federal issue,” he said, that needs to be resolved by Congress.

Boyer said, in his mind, it’s even simpler than that.

“These young adults who were brought here as children, through no fault of their own, for all intents and purposes are Americans even though they don’t have legal status recognized by the federal government,” he said.

“And as far as I’m concerned, the least we can do is provide for them for in-state tuition,” Boyer said. “This gives them a little bit of hope.”

The measure now goes to the full Senate.

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