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Legislators Target Education Opportunities for Lawful Missouri Immigrants

Legislators are directly targeting students that lawfully reside within Missouri. Two new bills have come up this legislative session that would restrict students' access to higher education.

Senate Bill 224, sponsored by Gary Romine (R-Farmington), would require students who graduate high school in Missouri to be U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents in order to receive scholarship benefits from the A+ Schools Program. Seemingly innocuous, this bill excludes Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Initiative students, DREAMers, as well as other immigrants with lawful presence, including asylum seekers and refugees.

Similarly, House Bill 187, sponsored by Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), would exclude DACAs, DREAMers, asylum seekers, and refugees, from all financial aid while also treating these same Missouri students as having international status, forcing them to pay full out-of-state tuition. At the University of Missouri, for example, out-of-state tuition is $14,026 more expensive per year.

The A+ Program currently provides students with scholarships equating to two free years at a participating community college or vocational school, provided they graduate with a 2.5 GPA or higher, have a 95% attendance rate, and complete at least 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring. Earning A+ status requires serious dedication on the part of a student. Dedication that Romine and his co-sponsor Bob Dixon want to make irrelevant.

The one-two punch of eliminating both A+ eligibility and in-state tuition for these students makes paying for higher education virtually impossible. Gone are two free years at community college and the cheaper in-state tuition cost available to every other high school graduate in the state. That is a difference worth tens of thousands of dollars, and one that will deprive deserving students of the opportunity to earn a college degree. The bill is already drawing strong opposition, including from the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of St. Louis, The ACLU of Missouri, and MIRA.

It gets worse. By hindering the ability of these students to pursue higher education, these bills are significant stunting the earning potential of a major demographic. Lower earning potential means less expendable income to stimulate the economy and ultimately create more jobs. These bills are economically backwards on top of morally questionable, a fact that legislators Romine and Fitzpatrick seem dishearteningly willing to ignore. Through this legislation they are attempting to dictate who is capable, and worthy, of higher education.

This is what we call a no-brainer: all Missourians are worthy of higher education.