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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has moved to let the offspring of those living in the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition at Virginia public colleges.
In the process, he bucked a General Assembly that rejected such policy. It is Herring’s second high-profile deviation from state practice since January.
With an immigration debate ongoing in Congress, Herring informed state colleges and universities of his determination, then publicly unveiled it Tuesday in two events in Northern Virginia and the state Capitol.
Students in those circumstances “are already Virginians in some very important ways,” Herring said.
“In most cases they were raised here, they graduated from Virginia schools, and they have known no home but Virginia... but because they were brought here as children many years ago, an affordable education remains out of their reach.”
House of Delegates GOP leaders, including Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford County, condemned the decision in a statement that said Herring has shown a “continued willingness to ignore and circumvent the duly-adopted laws of the Commonwealth” and places “personal, political ideology ahead of the will of the people and their elected representatives.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, applauded Herring. His education secretary, Anne Holton, said the administration will issue guidance as needed to implement the policy at state schools.
“The governor believes that all Virginia students who work hard and qualify should have the same access to an affordable education in a Virginia public school,” McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said.
At least 17 other states have provisions allowing in-state tuition to undocumented, resident students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Establishing what’s called a DREAM Act standard in Virginia would represent a substantial savings for qualified students but also have financial ramifications for higher education institutions.
For example, the average in-state cost for an Old Dominion University student this school year, including mandatory fees and room and board, is $17,732, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
The average out-of-state ODU student pays $33,392.
Republicans in Virginia’s legislature routinely have defeated in-state tuition proposals from Democrats and this year also spiked one from GOP Del. Tom Rust of Fairfax County. Like similar measures, Rust’s legislation established conditions for students to qualify for less-costly tuition.
Among them: being approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by the federal government; attending a Virginia high school for at least three years; and showing their parents have paid state income taxes.
As of December, about 8,100 Virginia youngsters had been granted Deferred Action status, according to federal figures cited by Herring’s office.
Herring says his action is consistent with a practice in place since roughly 2006 permitting foreign refugees living in Virginia under federal “temporary protected status” to establish residence here and qualify for in-state tuition. It’s unclear how many current Virginia students that applies to.
Herring’s in-state tuition stance rankles conservatives, just as his decision to fight Virginia’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage did.
A Norfolk-based federal judge in February overturned Virginia’s gay marriage policy as unconstitutional. That ruling is on appeal.