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.

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

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”