Colorado

AG: Undocumented tuition rate illegal

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers on Tuesday issued an opinion declaring the special tuition rate for undocumented students created this month by Metro State University is illegal.

Attorney General John Suthers
John Suthers

Suthers said in a news release that he issued the formal opinion in response to “a question posed by the Colorado Community College System.”

“After carefully reviewing the state and federal law in this area, my office has concluded that Colorado’s state-supported higher-education institutions cannot create discounted tuition categories for students who are unable to prove their lawful presence in the United States,” Suthers wrote.

“Although federal law allows state legislatures to pass statutes affirmatively providing tuition benefits to undocumented students, the General Assembly has repeatedly declined to legislate in this area.”

Metro State trustees voted 7-1 on June 7 to create the special category of tuition for undocumented students, saving them money since they previously paid the higher out-of-state tuition rate.

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  • Metro State’s tuition rate for undocumented students is on the agenda at a 2:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday of the legislative Joint Budget Committee, college officials and members of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

The decision flew in the face of state lawmakers, who this year killed Senate Bill 12-015, known as the ASSET bill, which would have explicitly allowed state colleges to set such separate rates. It was the sixth time the General Assembly has killed similar legislation.

“Just this year, the General Assembly again considered a bill — the ASSET bill — intended by its sponsors to create a new discounted tuition category for undocumented students. Once again, the bill failed,” Suthers wrote. “The decision by Metropolitan State College of Denver to proceed on its own to create a new tuition category, undeterred by the legislature’s repeated rejection of specific authorizing legislation, is simply not supported by governing law.

“The General Assembly may continue to consider this issue,” he continued. “In the meantime, however, state-supported institutions of higher education in Colorado cannot act unilaterally. Under federal law they must await a decision by the legislature. I am disappointed Metro State decided to proceed in this manner without consulting our office.”

It’s unclear what impact Suthers’ opinion might have. At one point in the press release, the opinion is listed as “non-binding.”

In a statement issued Tuesday night, the trustees said, “We reviewed current state statute and deemed this as a legitimate policy within the Trustees’ authority. … It was never our intent to disregard Colorado’s law or its legislature, and we do not believe we have done this.”

Trustee Terrance Carroll, a Democratic former speaker of the Colorado House, was blunter in a Tweet. “The AG crafted a legal opinion on Metro State tuition rate to support his ideological & political beliefs not the law.” Suthers is a Republican. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the ASSET bill but it died in a committee of the Republican-majority House.

State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, testified in support of the plan to the Metro trustees and said enacting it is “squarely within the authority the legislature has given you.” Steadman is a member of JBC, which is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans, and is expected to be an active participant in Wednesday’s meeting.

Metro trustees meeting
There was a full house June 7 for the Metro State trustees’ vote on a new tuition rate for undocumented students.

The new tuition rate is $3,578.50 for 15 credit hours, a full class load for one semester. The comparable tuition for out-of-state students will be $7,992.60 next year, and the resident cost will be $3,082.

Metro leaders believe they structured the rate for undocumented students to avoid any taxpayer subsidy of such students and is intended to reflect the full cost of education, something that’s partially subsidized for resident students. Undocumented students also won’t be eligible for state or institutional financial aid.

To be eligible for the new rate, a student must have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years, graduated from a Colorado high school or received a general equivalency diploma in this state and provide a statement that they are in good legal standing, other than their undocumented or unclassified status, and are seeking or intend to seek lawful status when eligible.

Voting for the new policy, called the Colorado High School/GED Tuition Rate, were trustees Carroll, Robert Cohen, Melody Harris, Bill Hanzlik, Walter Isenberg, Michelle Lucero and Walter Isenberg. Trustee Jack Pogge voted no, saying, “I don’t think it’s our position to do this.” Dawn Bookhardt was absent.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede