What part of legal don’t you understand?
The question deserves an answer from the Missouri legislators who passed a bill banning even lawfully present immigrant students from a community college scholarship program.
Again, the students are here lawfully. And state education officials decided last year that they were eligible for the A+ scholarships. But unless Gov. Jay Nixon vetoes SB 224, none of the students affected will be able to apply for the program, which reimburses qualified students for two years of community college or vocational-technical training after they have exhausted other financial aid.
Being in the country lawfully is no longer enough. Under the bill, students must reach the immigration status of permanent resident or be a U.S. citizen.
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The senator who sponsored this bill is Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican. He’s a former high school teacher. Go figure, a teacher undercutting student success.
A+ began in the early 1990s to help more students reach college. High school students must have at least a 2.5 GPA and 95 percent attendance, tutor/mentor other students for 50 hours and avoid trouble with drugs and alcohol.
About 14,000 students benefited this academic year, a jump from about 12,500 students last year, at a total funding cost of about $35 million. None of the students in question had been able to receive any funds yet.
Last year, Kansas City immigration attorney Jessica Piedra pressed the Missouri Department of Higher Education to determine if immigrants who had been approved for DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also qualified for A+. DACA students were brought to the U.S. by their parents without legal status. But by meeting a list of qualifications, they remain free from deportation and are lawfully present in the eyes of the Department of Homeland Security.
After legal analysis, the state said they were eligible. Piedra estimates that several hundred DACA students could qualify for A+. DACA students are not eligible for federal programs such as Pell Grants.
A+ is popular. If rising costs are the concern, requiring a higher GPA, more strenuous coursework or limiting reimbursements would be fairer options to all students. Or here is a marvelous idea: Why doesn’t the legislature undertake a hard look at how well it is funding higher education?
This isn’t the most draconian of efforts targeting immigrant students this session. Another bill, which thankfully didn’t make it out of committee, sought to raise tuition threefold for some immigrants, affecting even those in the process of gaining asylum.
Sen. Jason Holsman of Kansas City is the only Democrat in the Senate who voted for the A+ bill.
There is a term for what the legislature has done. They changed the rules midstream to eliminate a whole category of students. That’s called discrimination.
Nixon would be wise to keep the state out of such trouble by using his veto.