- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Supporters of legislation to make students in the country illegally eligible for in-state tuition say the proposal is fair and would benefit Tennessee’s economy.

The measure, called the Tuition Equality bill, was scheduled to be heard in the House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday but the panel adjourned before getting to it.

Currently, such students pay nearly three times as much for higher education - the out-of-state rate - even if they’ve lived in Tennessee for most of their lives.

“We can’t keep punishing children for what their parents did or didn’t do,” said Senate sponsor Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick has also signed onto the bill.

“It not only helps them with their future, but I think it helps our economy and helps everybody in Tennessee if we have a better educated population,” the Chattanooga Republican told reporters outside the meeting.

Under the proposal, a student would have to meet academic standards and attend Tennessee schools for at least five years before graduating from high school.

Proponents of the legislation say it would benefit the state with increased funding from in-state tuition and, they hope, produce more graduates who can contribute to the workforce.

“Every time a student pays in-state tuition, the state makes money, higher education makes money,” said Eben Cathey, spokesman for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “All around, this bill is a net gain for the entire state.”

At least 19 states have enacted similar legislation, according to the coalition.

Monica Greppin-Watts is the spokeswoman for the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.

She said the bill would have a “positive fiscal note because it could bring students into our institutions; students who most likely would not have previously enrolled because of out-of-state costs.”

“The revenue will be incidental, however, to the greater benefit of serving these students and increasing the number of college-educated individuals in our state,” she said.

Jzmin Ramirez of Nashville, Tenn., graduated high school last year and was hoping to attend college and major in business administration, but the 19-year-old has had to take a year off to raise money to pay for her tuition.

“I have to pay three times as much as my peers,” said Ramirez, who was among about 40 supporters of the legislation that packed the crowded subcommittee room. “I would hands down be already enrolled in school if I had the opportunity to pay in-state tuition.”