A Win For Undocumented Students, With Little Dissent From Tennessee Lawmakers | Nashville Public Radio

A Win For Undocumented Students, With Little Dissent From Tennessee Lawmakers

Mar 5, 2015

Undocumented students in Tennessee are one step closer to getting in-state tuition at public colleges. 

Right now, undocumented students pay out-of-state rates, even if they’re Tennessee residents. That meant 20-year-old Diana Montero couldn't afford a public university, although she had a 3.8 GPA in high school. Her family came to the U.S. illegally when she was three years old.

“I kind of felt left behind," Montero said. "What about me? I’ve been here for so long. I’ve tried my hardest. What am I doing wrong that I can’t afford this?"

She's now a student at Fisk University, thanks to a private scholarship. But she said she almost cried when the Senate Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday to give some undocumented students in-state tuition.

This is a big contrast compared to last year, when a similar bill faced vocal opposition in committee and never came to a vote. This year, there was surprisingly little debate about it.

Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) acknowledge it was a politically charged issue but said he agreed with it.

“I think that it is improper and wrong for us to penalize children for the sins of their parents,” he said. "Scripture even says that."

The bill passed with two senators dissenting — Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) — and one, Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), not voting. Next, it goes to the Senate finance committee.