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Arkansas Learns Strongly Supports SB915, Postsecondary Education and Economic Development Act

Friday, April 5, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gary Newton
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Arkansas Learns is dedicated to excellent education for all students to ensure the talent and workforce necessary for Arkansas to successfully compete in a global economy.

Since the attraction, retention and development of talent has become the new driver of economic development, Arkansas Learns strongly supports SB915, the Postsecondary Education and Economic Development Act of 2013, sponsored by Senator Joyce Elliott and Representative Greg Leding, and co-sponsored by Senator Johnny Key and Representatives Les Carnine and Sheilla Lampkin.

Commonly known as the Dream Act, this one-page bill would ensure:

  1. A person who has attended a secondary educational institution in Arkansas for at least three (3) years and who has either graduated from an Arkansas high school or received a general education diploma in the state is eligible to pay the in-state tuition rate at any state-supported institution of higher education he or she attends.
  2. A student without documented immigration status shall file an affidavit with the state-supported institution of higher education stating that the student has an intent to legalize his or her immigration status.

Arkansas currently ranks 49th in percentage of population with a four-year degree and 50th in percentage with a graduate degree. SB915 will empower our state to keep and develop talent, while increasing our percentage of college graduates. 

Presently, it is not illegal for undocumented students to attend college in Arkansas. However, out-of-state tuition is prohibitively expensive for many, as it is as much as double the tuition of in-state students.

To be clear, undocumented is not the same thing as illegal. In fact, many of these students are undocumented American citizens because they were born in the United States.  

Many other undocumented students have been in Arkansas most of their lives because of decisions made by their parents/guardians. These children had no control over their parents' actions, and staying behind was simply not an option.

As a result, many of these students are fully Americanized and know no home other than Arkansas. The reality is, they will remain in our state, college-educated or not, so sound public policy dictates equipping them to become contributors to Arkansas's prosperity, rather than drags on its resources.

SB915 would have no effect on Arkansans' or any other American citizen’s opportunity to attend college. Further, no state scholarships are involved, making the bill revenue positive for our colleges and universities.

The Supreme Court case Plyler vs. Texas made public school education mandatory for undocumented students. Federal law does not prohibit states from providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. Rather, section 505 of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigration Reconciliation Act of 1996 prohibits states from providing any higher education benefit to undocumented immigrants unless they provide the same benefit to U.S. citizens in the same circumstances.

So, SB915 also allows any U.S. citizen, not just undocumented students, who has attended school in our state for three years and has graduated from an Arkansas high school or has acquired a GED in Arkansas, to attend college at the in-state tuition rate.

When the personal, familial and societal economic development value of a two and four-year degrees is well documented, it is in Arkansas's best interest to make reasonable access to higher education available to all its people.

This is also an issue of competitiveness, as twelve states, including neighboring Oklahoma and Texas, have already passed laws allowing undocumented students access to higher education at their in-state tuition rates. Two states’ laws have been challenged and upheld - Kansas and California.

By failing to enact comprehensive immigration reform, Congress has handed this problem to the states. But the federal government's failure can be Arkansas's success, as we may keep and develop talent, while empowering some of the most vulnerable among us to add value to their lives and our economy.

SB915, which is also endorsed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education.

[Personal Note: I am an eighth generation native Arkansan and lived most of my life in the state of my birth. However, because of my parents' divorce, my mother's custody, and a move to Missouri for my high school years (decisions not my own), I had to pay out-of-state tuition for my first year at the University of Arkansas until I could establish independent residency. Fortunately, private scholarships made up the difference, but had they not been available, I may not have been able to afford to attend the University I had loved since I first learned to Call the Hogs. SB915 wouldn't have helped me since I didn't graduate from an Arkansas high school, but I understand feeling unwelcomed by a state I had never stopped calling home.]

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