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Kansas legislature

Kansas Legislature

Committee to reconsider immigrant tuition bill

February 24, 2006

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Members of a Kansas legislative committee will have an unusual opportunity Wednesday to recast their votes on a bill that would kill a law giving some undocumented immigrants a break on tuition at state universities and colleges.

Last week, the bill failed in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on an 11-11 vote, which kept the issue from being debated by the full House. But the committee chairman said Thursday the vote was controversial enough that House GOP leaders asked him to bring it before the committee again.

Chairman John Edmonds said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, approached him directly to say he'd like the committee to give the measure another look. Calls to Mays were not immediately returned.

"Any vote on this bill is a bad vote in some of our members' districts, and I think there's no point in putting those votes on record if it's not even going to clear the House," said Edmonds, R-Great Bend. "But I'm going to reconsider this bill again because my speaker asked me to."

Last fall, 221 students enrolled under the law, most of them at community colleges, according to the Kansas Board of Regents. The tuition break can be substantial. At Seward County Community College, which had 94 students enrolled under the law in fall 2005, tuition is $40 per credit hour for residents and $63 for out-of-state students.

"It's like they're just playing around with us like a cat with a yarn ball," said Ana Ballesteros, a ninth-grader at Oregon Trail Junior High School in Olathe who testified before the committee earlier this month. "I don't think I would be able to afford college otherwise, because prices are going up. Having to pay out-of-state tuition would be pretty pricey."

Kansas is one of nine states that grants in-state tuition to noncitizen students. The 2004 law allows some undocumented, noncitizen students to enroll in universities, community colleges and technical colleges and pay lower tuition rates normally reserved for citizens who are Kansas residents.

The law survived a court challenge last year when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by students from other states who are attending Kansas universities. Wednesday's committee meeting will mark the second time this session lawmakers will discuss the matter, although they won't hear additional public testimony.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Becky Hutchins, R-Holton, said she was pleased with Edmonds' move to reconsider the measure. She said she had considered other strategies to eliminate in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, including writing another bill or proposing an amendment to an unrelated measure on the House floor.

Opponents of the bill said the decision left many Kansas families in limbo because a reversal of the law would put college out of reach for some of the state's brightest students.

Undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition only if they attended a Kansas high school at least three years and graduated or earned a General Educational Development certificate in Kansas. They also must be seeking legal immigration status.

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