Topeka — A bill that would let some illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition at public institutions of higher education appears doomed this session because of opposition from House Speaker Doug Mays.
Mays has blocked House debate of a Senate-passed bill allowing illegal immigrants who meet certain qualifications -- such as graduating from a Kansas high school -- to pay the lower tuition at Kansas' public universities, community colleges and vocational schools.
In-state tuition is considerably lower than tuition for residents of other states. For example, tuition for 15 undergraduate hours at Kansas University this semester is $1,763 for residents and $5,501 for nonresidents.
Mays, R-Topeka, said Wednesday he opposed granting the privileges of citizenship to illegal immigrants.
"This isn't about immigrant tuition; it's about illegal aliens," he said in an interview. "There is a difference."
Sen. Christine Downey, ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, said she was tired of the issue being a "political football."
"I would hope there would be a revolt of House members who are sick and tired of letting one person dictate what they're going to do," said Downey, of Newton. "This has gotten strong support in the House and Senate. The speaker needs to let the process work."
The bill originated in the House, which passed a version of it last year on an 81-43 vote and sent it to the Senate.
Senators approved the bill this year after amending it to require that eligible students have lived in Kansas at least three years and either graduated from a Kansas high school or earned a General Educational Development certificate in the state. They would also have to prove they were working to gain U.S. citizenship.
Instead of seeking negotiations to work out the two chambers' differences, however, Mays assigned the bill to a House committee for a second round of consideration.
He also replaced Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, as the lead House negotiator on a bill dealing with vocational education because Sloan succeeded in adding the immigrant tuition provisions to it. The House rejected the negotiated bill.
"It was poor judgment to attempt to put the issue of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants into a bill that deals with vocational education," Mays said.
Sebelius has expressed disappointment that the immigrant tuition legislation had stalled.