by Mannon Lane
Members of Trevecca’s student body and one alumn, joined Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) in a last-days attempt to get HB675, the tuition equality bill, passed before the end of Tennessee’s 109th General Assembly.
Trevecca accounted for 12 of the 25 people gathered at Legislative Plaza Thursday, to hand out reminder cards to the representatives as they entered the house floor, and then later delivered apples (representative of education), to Governor Bill Haslam’s office.
“If this doesn’t pass, or it doesn’t go to vote, I will be very disappointed and very sad,” said Katerine Hernandez, a 2015 graduate of Trevecca. “I know that I will have many conversations with students, and we will be processing this together.”
Hernandez works with high school students as the program coordinator for YMCA Latino Achievers.
HB675 would allow qualifying students with temporary resident status, who are graduates of Tennessee high schools, to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities. If this bill fails to pass, these students, regardless of how long they have lived in Tennessee, will have to pay out-of-state tuition rates. Doing so can reach three times the amount of in-state tuition.
If HB675 is not brought to the house floor before the end of the session, it will die, bringing an end to the tuition equality bill that has been four years in the making.
Holding signs that asked the question “Do you want to drive to 55?” reminding passing legislators of the governor’s campaign to ensure that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a degree or certificate by the year 2025, the group hoped to bring focus back to the heart of the bill; education.
According to the Tennessee Board of Regents’ website, Drive to 55 is “not just a mission for higher education, but a mission for Tennessee’s workforce and economic development.”
“It’s a matter of justice because if you are a tax paying, contributing member of society, and in-state tuition is warranted by paying taxes, then this is an issue of discrimination and injustice,” said Tabitha Sookdeo, a social justice major at Trevecca.
The advocates are still fighting for the bill’s passage this year, as a result of last year’s upset where, after passing in the Senate, it missed passing by one vote in the House on April 22, 2015.
The bill only received 49 of the needed 50 votes to pass, with a final count of 49-47.
Both Democratic representatives, Darren Jernigan and Bo Mitchell, are on record in an article from the Tennessean that same day, as having said they would have voted for the bill had they not been required to attend meetings for each of their own jobs as citizen employees.
According to that same article, Republican Speaker Beth Harwell left the chambers at the time of the vote in order to be interviewed for a different story, but was quoted as having expected the bill to pass. Speaker Harwell herself is opposed to the bill.
“It is a slippery slope that begins, and there are a lot of people who were naturally born here that are struggling to pay college tuitions. If we’re going to do this for them, I do believe let’s do away with out-of-state tuition altogether,” said Harwell, in the same article.
As the end of the 109th General Assembly nears, recollections of the four year journey for tuition equality, and especially last year’s upset, are heavy on the minds of those who have fought for all residents of Tennessee to have the same opportunity for affordable higher education.
“If it’s going to fail, let it fail in the House, and not, ‘We weren’t even worth you putting it on the calendar’,” said Jazmin Ramirez, Trevecca sophomore and social justice major.