Government & Politics

Missouri law can’t block scholarships for undocumented immigrant students, education officials say

The Missouri Department of Higher Education says language in the preamble of an appropriations bill cannot stop it from awarding A+ scholarships to undocumented immigrant students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.
The Missouri Department of Higher Education says language in the preamble of an appropriations bill cannot stop it from awarding A+ scholarships to undocumented immigrant students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

Missouri educators say they won’t let language inserted in an appropriations bill prevent them from awarding A+ scholarships to qualified students.

In a memo sent Thursday to college presidents, chancellors and directors, Missouri Department of Higher Education Commissioner David Russell said language in the title or preamble of a recently passed higher education appropriations bill “has no legal authority to withhold scholarship awards from otherwise eligible students.”

He said the commission reviewed House Bill 3 and determined that it did not prohibit undocumented immigrant students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status from receiving scholarships paid for with state dollars or from being offered in-state tuition rates.

DACA, created by President Barack Obama in 2012, offers deferred action for certain undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children. It does not allow them lawful status, but it does say they are lawfully present in the country.

Missouri’s A+ program provides scholarships to graduates of certain high schools and pays most of the cost to attend a two-year public or private college in the state. Students qualify for A+ if they have attended a Missouri high school for three years and have a 2.5 GPA, a 95 percent attendance record and 50 hours of tutoring or mentoring and are good citizens.

The department’s decision on awarding A+ means this year would be the first time since the scholarship program was established in 1993 that money has been available to undocumented students.

It could help several hundred such students who qualify for A+ pay for two years of college, said Liz Coleman, spokeswoman for the Department of Higher Education.

Missouri Republicans had tried to pass a Senate bill that would have prohibited the allocation of A+ program scholarships to DACA students. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed that bill, opening the door for DACA students to receive A+ scholarships.

Then last week, colleges and universities learned of language in the state higher education budget bill stating that “no scholarship funds shall be expended on behalf of students with an unlawful immigration status in the United States.”

The language was added by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, as a stopgap measure in case the Senate bill was derailed.

“I was not trying to ban them (DACA students) from attending college,” Fitzpatrick said. “I didn’t want their education to be subsidized by Missouri taxpayers.”

Missouri college officials said they were still reviewing the department memo. But the department said it’s not the universities but rather the Department of Higher Education that pays out A+ scholarships.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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