Capitol Times: Senate committee passes ‘dreamer’ tuition rate

If we are going to continue to grow our economy, we need skilled workers. It is fundamentally as simple as that. And who better to fill those jobs than people we have invested in already.

A measure to create a new tuition rate for Arizona high school graduates, including DACA recipients, was revived in a Senate committee Thursday afternoon after failing to receive a hearing in the House of Representatives.

That revival came over the objections of some Republican senators, who say Sen. Heather Carter’s proposal violates Proposition 300, a 2006 voter-approved law that prevents those “without lawful immigration status” from paying in-state tuition rates at Arizona community colleges and state universities.

Carter, a Cave Creek Republican, has defended her bill as a more broad attempt to offer a reasonable tuition rate for anyone who graduates from an Arizona high school, regardless of their immigration status or their residency – those who move out of state after graduating high school in Arizona would also stand to benefit if they choose to return to the state to seek a higher degree.

That new rate would cost more than in-state tuition, but less than high out-of-state tuition rates that apply to all other students.

Critics have cited the bill’s impact on immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well as undocumented high school graduates, as reason to oppose it. It’s part of the reason why House Speaker Rusty Bowers blocked the measure from receiving a vote in his chamber.

“I just can’t trounce Prop. 300,” Bowers, R-Prescott, told Capitol Media Services.

That sentiment was echoed in testimony before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, where Carter struck her proposal for a new tuition rate on HB2186.

Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, a Sun City Republican, said approving Carter’s bill would amount to “disenfranchising” voters who overwhelming approved Prop. 300.

“This is an integrity issue for me,” said Gray, R-Sun City, before voting no. “I have to come down to, what did the voters say?”

Carter bristled at accusations in public testimony that she broke the rules by reviving her bill, which followed standard House and Senate protocol that allow bills to be wiped clean and amended with entirely new language.

And the proposal doesn’t conflict with Prop. 300 because it’s creating an entirely new tuition rate that – by nature of being brand new – could not have been contemplated when voters approved the ballot measure more than a decade ago, she said.

HB2186 “is legal, appropriate, does not violate the will of the voters, does not violate Prop. 105 because nothing in Prop. 300 said anything about a tuition rate that had not been created,” Carter said.

Unlike Arizona’s in-state tuition rates, the new rate that Carter wants to create wouldn’t subsidize the cost of education. It’d be up to the Arizona Board of Regents to set the rate, but Carter said it would “have to be set no lower than the actual cost to the institution educating the student.”

The bill advanced with bipartisan support on a 5-3 vote, and will likely clear a vote in the Senate once more, where the idea was previously approved 18-12. The chamber’s 13 Democrats unanimously support the measure, as do Republicans like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix, who said Thursday that Arizona may as well provide a path to educate Arizonans who’ve gone through the state’s K-12 system.

“If we are going to continue to grow our economy, we need skilled workers,” Brophy McGee said. “It is fundamentally as simple as that. And who better to fill those jobs than people we have invested in already.”