Undocumented high school graduates in Colorado will get a break on college tuition under a bill passed by the Senate Education Committee onThursday.
The divisive bill drew a standing-room-only crowd during a hearing at the State Capitol.
This isnt the first time that Colorado lawmakers have debated the merits of letting undocumented students pay lower tuition, but all previous attempts have met with defeat.
This latest proposal would create a middle-tier tuition for those students.
It would be higher than in-state tuition, but lower than out-of-state tuition, said bill sponsor Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver.
A 13-year-old student from Aurora spoke in favor of the proposal during the committee hearing Thursday afternoon.
I want to be a pediatrician, and my brother wants to be a lawyer, said Alejandra G. But its going to be so much harder for him to reach his dreams.
Alejandra told 7NEWS that she was born in Chicago and is a legal resident of this country. She said her 11-year-old brother was born in Mexico and is undocumented.
It really stunts what he can do with his life, said bill proponent Lynea Hansen. Theres a loss of hope.
But opponents argue that state benefits should only go to legal residents.
Were not discriminating against these kids, said Sen. Keith King, R-El Paso County. Theyre not residents of the state of Colorado. They can still get an education here. They just have to pay out-of-state tuition.
A spokesman for the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform said taxpayers want smaller government and lower costs.
John Brick spoke out against Senate Bill 15, saying, One way that the cost of government and education can be reduced is to get rid of illegal aliens.
Brick said the average cost to educate a student from kindergarten through 12th grade in Englewood is $10,500.
He said taxpayers could save a lot of money if they didnt have to pay to educate undocumented students.
But bill proponents counter that the state has already invested that money educating students and should work to ensure that it gets some of that investment back.
The more education they achieve, the more money they will earn, said the bills other sponsor, Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo County. And the more money they will pay in taxes.
Giron said that under this proposal, the undocumented students will be required to apply for citizenship. She also said that colleges and universities could opt out of the tuition program.
Johnston said an estimated 300 to 500 students could benefit from the bill.
I think its critically important because we have students who have been in Colorado every year since they were 2, Johnston said. Theyre valedictorians of their high schools who want to go to college and are not able to.
Giron said that in order to qualify for the lower tuition, called standard rate, students must attend a Colorado public or private high school for three years. She said, they must be admitted to an institution of higher education within 12 months after graduating from high school or earning a certificate.
When Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Jefferson County, asked Johnston how much money undocumented families pay in taxes, he responded, $200 million."
When Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Weld County, asked how much money undocumented families cost the state in benefits, Johnston responded, $217 million."
The bill passed on a 4-3 party-line vote.
King said he anticipates it will pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. He said it will face a much tougher road in the Republican-controlled House.
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