JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri legislators debated a measure Tuesday that would ban public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition to students living in the U.S. illegally.
Schools in the state now risk losing state funding if they offer students with "an unlawful immigration status" anything less than the tuition rate charged to international students. That's because of restrictions that lawmakers have placed on state funding in recent years through the budget process.
Suburban St. Louis Republican Sen. Bob Onder's bill would enshrine that budget policy in law.
"It's really just a question of, in this world of scarce resources, who do we want to subsidize coming to our state for tuition?" Onder told a Senate committee Tuesday.
He said because residents from other states don't qualify for in-state tuition, "it doesn't make sense to me to encourage the unlawful breaking of our immigration laws in this way."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states have adopted laws allowing in-state tuition for students living in the U.S. illegally. At least three — Arizona, Georgia and Indiana, enacted laws to ban the practice. Alabama and South Carolina prohibit those students from attending public colleges and universities.
Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur, who worked as a Kansas City teacher before joining the Legislature, said she previously taught students brought to the U.S. illegally as children who call Missouri home.
She questioned the public benefit of discouraging those students from staying in the state amid a labor shortage.
"My concern is that we are educating undocumented students K-12, they are interested in staying in Missouri, and what essentially we're doing is making cost-prohibitive to remain in the state," she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and several religious groups, including the Missouri Catholic Conference, also spoke out against the proposal Tuesday.
Onder's bill still has not yet been voted out of committee, but it likely will receive support in the Republican-led Legislature. Several Republicans on the Senate committee appeared to back the policy.
"If a person here is illegally and they want to get the benefits of a legal citizen, why don't they become legal citizens?" said Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin, who leads the Education Committee.
A budget compromise to strip the policy from this year's budget fell apart during the last legislative session following outrage among House Republicans.