© 2023
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

ASSET Rally At The Capitol Hopes That 7th Time Is a Charm For Tuition Bill

Bente Birkeland

About a hundred people rallied at the state capitol Tuesday in support of a measure to give illegal immigrants who graduate from Colorado high schools in state college tuition.

They expect the bill to pass this time around now that Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature even though similar measures have failed in the past. This marks the 7th time the tuition measure has come before lawmakers. Just like in years past, to qualify for in-state tuition a student must have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years and be accepted to college within a year of graduation.

Students would also have to sign an affidavit pledging to seek citizenship.

Anna Calderon’s family came to the U.S. when she was just three years old. She says she can’t afford to go to college after graduating from high school in 2011. “We have to go on with our lives and if we don’t go to school now…. when?” says Calderon. “With broken hearts we had to put our dreams on hold. We’re tired of waiting.”

One of the main sponsors of senate bill 33 is Democratic senator Michael Johnston of Denver. He’s a former high school principal and says the lack of access to higher education for undocumented students has a big impact on learning.

“When the two last valedictorians at a high school in my district are right now flipping burgers at a fast food joint and you try to tell a 7th, 6th, or 5th grader why they should come in every day and work hard so it’s possible to get a diploma one day to…flip burgers? That is a hard argument to make.”

The tuition bill has been divisive. Last year only one GOP lawmaker voted for the bill, and he was term limited. Many Republicans say they feel sympathy for the students, but also say the bill would violate federal law and encourage illegal behavior.

Senate minority leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs says he’ll once again be a no vote.

“We already have a law that Democrats sponsored that prohibited undocumented residents from accessing benefits at the state or county level. So it’s interesting to see now that Democrats are trying to unwind what they actually started.”

While the GOP has been cool to the tuition bill, Democrats say they’re seeing some positive movement this year. So far, Freshman Republican senator Larry Crowder of Alamosa is the first GOP legislator to come out in favor of the bill. “I do support the concept. I believe if an individual has went through our school system we’ve already got that investment in him,” says Crowder. “My ultimate goal is we have an issue where we want people to become legalized.”

When Governor John Hickenlooper called for the bill’s passage in his state of the state address, Crowder went so far as to stand with Democrats. “One Democrat came up to me afterwards and said that was brave. I was like why is it brave? It’s not brave to do the right thing.”

Proponents were all but giddy at a rally to unveil the bill at the state capitol on Tuesday, knowing its passage was almost a sure thing. Sponsors say they hope to move the measure through the legislature quickly. The first hearing will be held later this month.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
Related Content