- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

A bill that would allow illegal aliens in Maryland to pay in-state tuition at public universities and colleges is gaining support in the General Assembly.
As many as 34 House Democrats support the bill by Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which is considering the measure.
Mrs. Hixson and the other lawmakers say the bill would give underprivileged children a chance to be part of the American economic mainstream.
"I represent the east side of Montgomery County, where 68 percent of the students in schools are from the minorities," Mrs. Hixson said. She acknowledged that taxpayers would subsidize the education of illegal aliens but said their contribution back to the community would be "much larger."
Few lawmakers have rejected the bill outright, though it has been met with some opposition.
"A person who is illegal in the country should never be given preference over someone who is here legally, especially when budget times are tight. … We cannot set up incentives for illegal behavior," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican and a member of the education committee, which will consider the Senate bill.
The University System of Maryland has endorsed the Hixson proposal. The system last year opposed a similar bill that would have required colleges to provide more in-state placements for illegal aliens by reducing the number of out-of-state students, thus costing the system hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tuition revenue.
The Hixson bill would not require universities to increase in-state placements, meaning more students would compete for the same number of in-state placements.
State Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt, Prince George's County Democrat, has filed a companion bill in the Senate.
At the University of Maryland in College Park, students with in-state status will pay $4,800 for a year beginning this spring, while out-of-state students will pay $14,002 a difference of $9,202.
A legal resident who has lived in the state for three years is eligible for in-state tuition. The Hixson bill would extend the benefit to illegal aliens as long as they have attended a public or private school in the state for at least three years and graduated from a public or private secondary school in the state.
The bill also would require illegal aliens paying in-state tuition to apply to become permanent residents within 30 days.
Federal law requires public schools to admit students regardless of their residency status, but those who are not citizens or permanent residents pay out-of-state tuition at institutions of higher learning.
Several states including California, New York, Texas and Utah have enacted laws allowing illegal aliens to attend public universities at in-state tuition rates. Similar bills have been introduced in at least eight other states.
However, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill this year that would require illegal immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition. The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Mark Warner, Democrat.
Other legislators such as Delegate David G. Boschert, Anne Arundel County Republican and a member of the Ways and Means Committee have said they approve of the bill's concept but are concerned it would require the state to provide more financial aid amid a struggling economy.
The Hixson bill is on hold in the Ways and Means subcommittee on education. Delegate Bennett Bozman, Wicomico County Democrat and subcommittee chairman, said he plans to meet with Mrs. Hixson this week to sort out the fiscal issue.
"The concept is fine, but this year money is a serious concern and the priority is to set the fiscal house in order," Mr. Bozman said.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, will hear from his legislative advisers before taking a stand on the issue, said Henry Fawell, the governor's spokesman.
Last year, Mrs. Hixson introduced a similar bill that was approved in the House but was killed in a Senate committee. Lawmakers say its chances have improved this year because of growing support from Hispanics and educators.
"The bill will get through this year. … The education community is pushing it hard and so is the Hispanic community," said Delegate Jean Cryor, Montgomery County Republican and a member of the Ways and Means Committee.
Mrs. Cryor, who has voted against similar bills, said she would vote for the legislation this year. She said the state needs to help the children of illegal immigrants receive higher education and become taxpaying citizens.
Joseph C. Bryce, associate chancellor of government relations for the University System of Maryland, testified in support of the bill before the Ways and Means Committee last month.
Mr. Bryce said the bill is "fair and reasonable" and would not hurt the university system fiscally because it would not change the number of students admitted at in-state tuition rates. If the bill were to become law, 30 extra students would be eligible for in-state tuition each year for the next three years, according to university system estimates.
Mr. Bryce said legal residents would not be affected by more students competing for in-state tuition. "There will still be merit-based decisions on admissions policies," he said.

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