Courtesy of Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
After taking many strides forward, and even gaining the support of Gov. Bill Haslam, as well as, educators and business owners statewide, a bill that would grant in-state tuition to undocumented students at public universities in Tennessee died Tuesday by just one vote.
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) is the group that has been pushing for the bill since 2014, and this year, the group got very close, as Tuition Opportunity passed through the Senate Education Committee with a 7 to 2 vote last month.
But on Tuesday, in the face of a dozen undocumented students from around the state displaying posters with their career aspirations and urging legislatures for a chance at affordable higher education, the House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted 7 to 6 not in favor, ending hopes for the bill to pass this year.
Youth members of TIRRC, a statewide coalition led by refugees and immigrants pursuing a better quality of life and equal opportunities for others like them, have been organizing the campaign for Tuition Opportunity since 2012, introducing legislation for the first time in 2014.
Co-director of the group, Stephanie Teatro believes lawmakers' decision to vote the bill down is inconsistent with the state's Drive To 55 effort, in which Gov. Haslam has challenged the state to have 55 percent of adults equipped with a college degree or certificate by 2025.
"It is unconscionable that legislators could look these students in the eye and opt to deny them a chance to fulfill their dreams, to more fully contribute to our state, and be part of the Drive To 55," Teatro said in a press release.
Mauricio Calvo, the Executive Director of Latino Memphis, a local organization focused on helping Latinos in Memphis in areas of health, education, and justice, posted a video to the group's Facebook page expressing his frustration with lawmaker's decision.
Calvo believes that by withholding in-state tuition from so many students in Tennessee, as a result, keeping many from having the chance to attend college, legislatures are stymieing the state's progress.
Currently, Tennessee public universities charge undocumented students, including those who have lived in Tennessee for most of their lives, out-of-state tuition, which can in some cases be three times higher than in-state tuition.
"If lawmakers argue that education is expensive, they need to consider the cost of poverty. These lawmakers should be ashamed and should be held accountable for slowing down our economy," Calvo stated in the online video.
Calvo says that there are about 16,000 unfilled jobs in Memphis but not enough qualified individuals to fill the positions. He believes that corporations might even be hesitant to move to Memphis, unsure if there is a large enough workforce here.
However, Calvo, along with Teatro and TIIRC say they are not done fighting for Tuition Opportunity. They urge citizens to contact representatives in support of the campaign.
As for the next steps, Teatro says the group will continue to organize support from education and business leaders, gaining the support needed for the bill to pass in 2018.
Additionally, she says undocumented students will continue to share their stories to the public, which she understands is the "real power behind this campaign."