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2015 September 27 - 12:19 am

Few Immigrants Impacted by Missouri Scholarship Ban

House, Senate Lawmakers Override Governor’s Veto

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — When Missouri lawmakers banned a state scholarship from going to immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents, there were more legislators in favor of the ban than there are students that would be directly affected.

The legislation, which requires that students be citizens or permanent residents in order to receive the A+ Scholarship, was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Legislators voted in each chamber to override him.

Immigrant advocates and state education officials have struggled to pinpoint the exact number of immigrant students that would lose access to the scholarship after Nixon’s veto was overturned. The scholarship provides two years of free tuition at a community college.

Not all schools have requested reimbursement from the state for students who received A+ Scholarships this summer, so it’s still unknown how many immigrants without permanent resident status received the scholarship, Department of Higher Education spokeswoman Liz Coleman said. The summer semester was the first since the department created a rule that took effect in March stating that immigrant students without legal status could receive the scholarship.

Coleman said the agency estimates that 200 to 300 of those immigrants might have enrolled in college courses this fall. Of that pool, only students who met attendance, grade-point average and community service requirements would be eligible. But it’s unlikely that all of them would go to a public community college instead of a four-year university, private school or out-of-state institution.

While lawmakers and advocates dispute how many, if any, students would suddenly lose access to the scholarship if the bill becomes law, there appears to be consensus that it would only be a few.

The Republican-led House voted 114-37, better than the two-thirds majority needed for an override. Senators voted 24-8 to override the veto, one more vote than needed.

Although the law’s impact is limited, it fueled hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked tension with Nixon, who publicly called on the Legislature to let his veto stand.

Supporters of the bill said it’s unfair for students without legal status to receive the scholarship when money for the program already is tight. This year for the first time, students receiving the A+ Scholarship had to chip in for some of the cost of their classes because there wasn’t enough to pay all recipients in full.

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican who handled the Senate bill in the House, said enacting the legislation now will prevent potentially steeper costs for certain immigrant students later. He said he expects additional students would apply for the scholarship once more colleges and immigrants are made aware of the department’s new rule.

“This is not just a temporary reprieve to allow one class of students this exemption,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is a perpetual, ongoing thing that’s going to cost more and more and more money.”

Opponents of the legislation say the ban makes it even more challenging to afford college for such immigrants, who can’t access federal financial aid or scholarships. Faith Sandler, executive director of the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, said it’s difficult to know how many students would benefit from the scholarship, but she agreed that the number likely would increase as more colleges and students realize it’s an option.

Sandler said that some immigrant students now might not even bother applying for the scholarship because of the uncertainty of whether lawmakers will ban it. Some likely are moving to other states that offer more expansive financial aid options for them.

“From the standpoint of the health of our state our economy and our students, to say only that many people will be affected is misleading,” Sandler said.

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