On Monday, the bill to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students was sent to full committee for review with recommendation to pass.
To repeal this law would be a mistake.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sent the bill to the Senate subcommittee for Border Security instead of Higher Education. This move set up the bill for advancement; two of the three senators on the Border Security subcommittee, Brian Birdwell and Bob Hall, are conservative Republicans elected with the support of the tea party. Of the seven senators on the Higher Education subcommittee, only two are supported by the tea party, and three are Democrats. From the start, the odds seemed stacked against keeping in-state tuition for undocumented students.
The Texas Legislature’s treatment of this issue is misguided. This is an education issue, not a border security issue. To consider them a threat to national security is insulting, ignorant and foolish. Undocumented students at Texas universities have lived in Texas for at least three years in order to pay in-state tuition, were brought to the U.S. as children and are undocumented through no fault of their own, are good students who earned admission to college and are working hard within the system to make a better life for themselves. These individuals are the undocumented Texans who least deserve yet another disadvantage.
The opposition to this bill holds the notion that in-state tuition is an undeserved subsidized reward. As tuition costs continue to rise, it’s wrong to think of in-state tuition as a discount. Out-of-state students pay extra. We’ve let in-state tuition be treated in political discourse the same as controversial welfare programs while education budgets have been slashed, which drives up student costs.
What’s confusing about the move to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students is that the bill was passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and was signed into law by former Gov. Rick Perry only 14 years ago. In 2001, the measure was a popular move that empowered undocumented students to contribute more to their communities and the state of Texas. Conservatives recognized that the bill is good for Texas.
In a speech following the passage of the bill, Perry affirmed that “we must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, ‘We don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.’ And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers.”
As a candidate in the last Republican primary, Perry still expressed his support for the measure. During a debate in Florida, Perry was asked about the issue and defended the legislation that he had signed into law: “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state … through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society [if we don’t].” Perry covered two sides of the argument: the moral and the practical. The crowd booed.
Children of unauthorized immigrants are twice as likely to live in poverty. Less than half of undocumented residents finish high school, compared to 92 percent of U.S.-born residents. Less than half of undocumented residents who graduate from high school have attended college. Doubling or tripling tuition could cause attendance and graduation rates to drop even lower.
They put in the work. They graduated from the same high schools, they are worthy of the universities to which they have been admitted, and they are trying to become productive members of society with a college education. We should especially want these students integrated into our Texas society. They are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps despite even greater obstacles in their way.
We should be providing opportunities for the impoverished and marginalized sections of our society. Education is part of the solution to our largest problems. Forcing poorer students to pay more than double to earn a degree decreases their likelihood of graduating. College graduates earn more income, pay more taxes and increase the chance that their children will accomplish the same.
What happened to the compassion? How has the Legislature in the same state controlled by the same party completely flipped its stance in such a short time? It’s rare that I agree with our former governor, but on this issue, he was right.
Burchard is a Plan II and international relations and global studies senior from Houston. Follow Burchard on Twitter @nathburch.