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Tuition equality bill dies in the Tennessee House

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)  One of the last pieces of legislation considered before the Tennessee General Assembly ended its session Wednesday was a bill that would have offered in-state college tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.

Under the proposal, students considered "lawfully present" in the U.S., through a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, would qualify for in-state tuition. Such students now pay nearly three times as much for higher education. They pay the out-of-state rate even if they've lived in Tennessee for most of their lives.

Republican Rep. Mark White of Memphis was the bill’s sponsor.

“We all know all the things and education does, how it changes a person’s life. They take better care of their family, they pay more taxes, and as we move twenty and twenty-five years down the road do we want a section of our population that is not well educated?”

A number of legislators spoke in opposition to the bill.  Rep. David Alexander of Winchester noted that Tennessee’s Attorney General has joined a lawsuit contesting the federal program that grants the students lawfully present status.

“Now folks, here y’all sit thinkin’ about goin against what the Attorney General is gonna’ be doin’. Now if that’s not getting’ wrapped around your own axle I don’t know what is. …Folks we’re not above the law here, or we shouldn’t be. These individuals that we’re talkin’ about have no lawful status.”

When the final vote was taken, Rep. White’s proposal fell one vote short of the 50 needed for passage.