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Evers’ proposed budget matches previous recommendations for undocumented student tuition exemption

One of Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget recommendations would allow for non-resident tuition exemption to undocumented students, leading to outcry from a divided state legislature. 

Image By: Amileah Sutliff

Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget for the 2019-’21 biennium includes a recommendation to allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System institutions — and this is not the first time Wisconsin legislature has considered it.

Evers’ budget recommendation would apply to undocumented students who meet three criteria.

First, each applicant must have graduated from a Wisconsin high school or received an equivalent declaration from the state.

Second, applicants also must have been continuously present in Wisconsin for three years preceding the first day of high school education or for three years after earning a high school diploma or an equivalent certificate.

Finally, undocumented students must also provide proof to the institution they are applying to that they are currently or intending to file an application for a permanent resident visa through US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The governor’s recommendation, however, is not a new idea.

The Supreme Court case Plyer v. Doe ruled states must provide undocumented immigrants’ access to K-12 public schools in 1982.

“The deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well-being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement," the court documents read. 

Although the case expanded access to education, it did not guarantee it specifically in post-secondary institutions.

Across the US, 18 states have provisions which allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington allow for undocumented students to receive financial aid.

In Wisconsin, there was legislation allowing non-resident tuition exemptions for undocumented students when former Gov. Jim Doyle signed the original program into law in 2009.

However, when former Gov. Scott Walker entered office in 2011, he signed a budget that no longer allowed for the undocumented students to receive in-state tuition benefits.

During the legislation’s two-year lifespan, around 170 undocumented students took advantage of the opportunity.

Rep. Diane Hesselbein, D-Middleton, co-introduced a bill to the Assembly floor in February 2014 that once again allowed for non-resident tuition exemption for undocumented students and supports the expansion of in-state tuition.

Hesselbein sees the exemption as “common sense” and saw the advantages in the program.

“Wisconsin should be a welcoming state to those students that wish to gain a degree and the advantages of that is these hard-working students will want to make Wisconsin their home and continue to contribute to our community and economy,” she said.

Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, co-introduced the bill alongside Hesselbein and commented that she believed that the program was important for the state.

“They work hard and deserve the same opportunities as other Wisconsin high school graduates” she said.

Zamarripa also believes that the program would be taken advantage of by many “smart, thoughtful and young” students who would be “happy” to pay in-state tuition and in turn can give back to the Wisconsin community.

Evers’ budget has been frequently criticized by Republicans over several issues presented in the budget, and they have even called for a completely new budget plan.

Many have voiced their dissent of the plan over the concern that the plan puts greater importance on undocumented students over veterans.

"It’s frankly quite disgusting and a disservice to those that have served and defended this country’s freedoms, freedoms that make it possible for the Wisconsin Idea to exist," Rep. Jesse James, R-Altoona, said in a statement.  

However, Zamarripa sees this controversy as a way to attack Evers and believes undocumented students should not be used in this way.

“Young immigrants who want to improve their lives and further their education at a Wisconsin school should not be used as a target,” Zamarripa said.

With much controversy surrounding the future of the plan, the future of undocumented students at Wisconsin institutions remains uncertain. 

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