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Supporters rally behind in-state tuition bill

Supporters of in-state tuition for Colorado’s undocumented high school students rallied Wednesday behind the latest legislative effort, depicting its merits in fiscal terms.

Go straight to videos of the news conference.

“It has always been the right thing to do” said state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, the bill’s co-sponsor, “and now it is the economically smart thing to do.”

The bill, S.B. 126, known as ASSET or Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow, would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition provided they meet certain criteria:

  • Attend a Colorado public or private high school for at least three years before graduating or receiving a GED.
  • Apply and be admitted to a Colorado institution of higher education within 12 months of graduating or obtaining a GED.
  • Submit a confidential affidavit to the college or university stating the student has applied for legal documentation or will be applying as soon as eligible.

“As a business owner, I understand first-hand the value of an educated workforce,” said state Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, the bill’s co-sponsor in the House with Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver. “When young Coloradans have access to higher education, they receive higher-paying jobs, they start small businesses and they spend more money in the community.”

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Interspersed with the financial focus, however, was testimony from three undocumented metro-area students, who described the impact the status is having on their lives.

“I want to go to college here, in the community I grew up in,” said Virna, a student at Denver’s Bruce Randolph School. “I am from Honduras, but Colorado is my home now.”

The bill’s chances of passage appear mixed. In 2009, when Democrats controlled both the state Senate and House, a similar effort failed after a handful of Democrats crossed party lines to vote against it.

This year, 20 lawmakers have signed on in support of the bill – all Democrats, no Republicans – and Republicans control the House. Their top issue, as they’ve repeatedly made clear, is the state budget.

Wednesday, several of the 11 speakers touting ASSET said it will cost nothing because undocumented students would not be eligible for state need-based scholarships or for state College Opportunity Fund stipends, meaning they’d actually be paying higher tuition than other Colorado students.
And, they said, passage of the bill would immediately help “budget-strangled” colleges and universities because it would mean more tuition dollars than they would otherwise receive.

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a co-sponsor, cited the state of Texas as an example: In 2009, after Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed a similar bill into law, Texas colleges and universities saw an increased $29 million in revenues.

“This is not a partisan issue, this is not a federal issue,” Johnston said. “This is a fiscal issue.”

Eleven states have passed laws allowing in-state tuition for undocumented students, including all of Colorado’s neighbors except Wyoming. If ASSET is approved, supporters estimate 500 to 1,000 undocumented students would benefit in the first year.

It’s not immediately clear where Republicans might fall on the bill. There have been no hearings since it was introduced in the Senate on Monday. But an initial statement from Senate Republicans did not appear favorable.

“For Republicans, our sense of compassion is real,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, “as is our sense of duty to abide by federal law, to not offer a promise we can’t make good on, and to not further burden the taxpaying families in our state who are working to pay for the dreams of their own children.”

Video highlights of Wednesday’s press conference supporting ASSET

Sonia, an undocumented Denver college student, tells her story