Students attending postsecondary institutions in Kansas fall into two categories: Those who pay in-state tuition and those who pay out-of-state rates. The difference is significant. In-state rates are less than half what the non-resident pays.
In 2004, the Legislature decided any student who graduated from a Kansas high school and had lived in the state for at least three years qualified for in-state tuition rates -- regardless of residency status. Lawmakers then were under the impression it wasn't fair to punish children with higher tuition merely because their parents weren't legal citizens. The law didn't benefit a great number of Kansas kids, nor did it raise many objections. The grumbling that did occur dissipated after learning the state wasn't paying for the students to attend college.
A challenge to the status quo emerged this year, courtesy of a state official whose passion appears to make life as difficult as possible for immigrants. Secretary of State Kris Kobach was the lead supporter of repealing in-state tuition for Kansas students without legal residency.
"I think that is an absurd reverse incentive," Kobach said during House Bill 2192's hearing in front of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. "If you follow the law, we're charging you three times more."
Kobach was referring to the fact Regents schools charge out-of-state tuition to students from foreign countries, and those youths need to obtain student visas. The "reverse incentive," in Kobach's mind, is that families entering the country illegally get a benefit they don't deserve.
First of all, this year there are 630 immigrants paying in-state tuition. Of those, more than 500 attend community college. Is Secretary Kobach suggesting families enter the country and live here for three years for the primary purpose of getting discounts on two years' worth of community college? That is difficult to imagine.
We don't believe the secretary is looking at revenue-enhancements for the schools, either. If all 630 students were to switch to the higher rate, the incremental dollar gain would be $1.8 million. Of course, assuming those families merely were gaming the system, they wouldn't be in Kansas. The loss of those 630 college students would be $3.9 million.
It sounds as if Kobach, who sideline business is making life difficult for immigrants around the country, just wanted to stir things up some more in Kansas.
Thankfully, the House committee didn't bite. No action was taken on the bill.
And at least one lawmaker reframed the conversation in a manner we found refreshing. Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita and the only Native American serving in the Legislature, offered this: "I think it's funny, Mr. Kobach, because when you mention illegal immigrant, I think of all of you."
We hope this is the last we hear about attempts to punish Kansas teens for the decisions of their parents.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry