Missouri Legislature Restores Ban on In-State Tuition for Illegal Aliens
By Colton R. Overcash | May 17, 2019
After a contentious week of negotiations, the Missouri General Assembly passed the state’s higher education budget hours before its May 10 deadline, including a prohibition on in-state tuition for illegal aliens that had been removed by lawmakers just weeks earlier.
Since 2015, the Show Me State’s annual higher education budget has specifically barred public colleges and universities from granting “a tuition rate to any student with an unlawful immigration status in the United States that is less than the tuition rate charged to international students.” This prevents illegal aliens from taking advantage of a huge benefit at state taxpayer expense: for example, in-state tuition for a year at the University of Missouri is currently $11,252 while the non-resident rate is $27,090, a difference of $15,838 and more than 2.4 times the price.
However, in this year’s version of the higher education budget, House Bill (HB) 3, the ban on in-state tuition for illegal aliens was removed by the Senate Appropriations Committee when it approved an amendment by Senator Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City). The amended bill then passed the upper chamber by an astonishing 30-2 vote, with only one Republican and one Democrat opposed.
Because the Senate’s amended version differed from the original House bill, it was ultimately assigned to the Joint Budget Conference Committee for “concurrence,” a process used by lawmakers from both chambers to resolve their differences on legislation. That committee, comprised of six Republicans and four Democrats, agreed to a compromise that excluded illegal aliens from public scholarship funds only, but would have allowed schools to grant them the in-state tuition rate.
However, even as open-borders supporters prematurely celebrated, activists mobilized in opposition, and in a rare move, the House then rejected the conference committee’s compromise bill by a 110-43 vote and sent it back to the committee for resolution.
Several House Republicans scolded the conference committee for prioritizing public funding for illegal aliens and demanded that they restore the ban.
“I would argue that the line of folks with unlawful status is longer than the availability for what we can afford in in-state tuition,” said House Budget Chairman Cody Smith (R-Carthage), the original bill sponsor. “The money just isn’t there.”
Rep. Curtis Trent (R-Springfield) agreed, saying, “[w]e only have so much money to allocate to state subsidies for higher education. Why should that not go to the people who live here, who pay taxes here, who have followed the rules and obeyed the laws of the land?”
And Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters) added, “House lawmakers would be willing to vote down the entire public higher education budget to protest the tuition provision” and he himself would “never vote to fund an illegal immigrant education in our state’s budget[.]”
Within hours, the conference committee yielded and inserted the ban back into the budget. That version was adopted by the House and Senate by votes of 112-38 and 25-8 respectively. The reversal was unsurprisingly considered a disappointment by some Democratic lawmakers, particularly Sen. Holsman, who had initially stripped the ban from the budget. “These kids are as American as anyone else without a piece of paper that says so,” he said. Perhaps ironically, he added, “[w]hat they are doing now is going to Kansas or Arkansas or Illinois -- they are leaving our state … it breaks my heart.”
Once the legislature sends the bill to Governor Mike Parson (R), he will have fifteen days in which to sign it, veto it in total, or veto individual line items, or it will become law without his signature. The governor has not publicly taken a position on in-state tuition for illegal aliens.
According to FAIR’s 2017 cost study, an estimated 61,000 illegal aliens live in Missouri, costing the state’s taxpayers more than $273 million each year. Making them eligible for in-state tuition would only drive those numbers higher.