PHOENIX — A five-year veteran of the Board of Regents says his colleagues are wrong to keep allowing “dreamers” to pay the same in-state tuition at state universities as legal Arizona residents.
Jay Heiler said his colleagues, in deciding to keep the tuition policy in place for now, are acting in good faith. But Heiler is distancing himself from a letter sent Thursday to the Attorney General’s Office by board President Eileen Klein on behalf of the other regents, which said the tuition policy for students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is justified and will remain.
Heiler, who is an attorney, said he believes the regents’ policy clearly violates a 2006 voter-approved state law that prohibits the use of tax dollars to subsidize tuition of students not in this country legally.
“Regardless of whether one agrees with the relevant law (which was enacted at the ballot by a large majority of Arizona voters), it could scarcely be more clear that the board’s presently established tuition rate violates it,” Heiler wrote in a letter Friday to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
“The only lawful course and the only solid ground on which a fiduciary board can stand is to comply with the law and set a tuition rate which does not amount to a ‘subsidy,’” Heiler wrote.
He said that was underscored by the state Court of Appeals’ ruling in June voiding a similar policy set by the Maricopa County Community College District for DACA recipients, who are known as “dreamers.” That case is being appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Heiler said there is a simple — and he believes legal — solution for the regents: Charge DACA recipients a nonsubsidized rate, something that covers the actual costs of their education but is far less than full out-of-state tuition. The regents already have a policy allowing those who graduate from an Arizona high school but don’t meet residency requirements to pay 150 percent of in-state tuition.
But former state Senate President Russell Pearce, who is threatening a lawsuit against the regents over their current policy, said he believes even that would be illegal. Pearce said he might sue even if the regents enact that 150 percent fallback position if the in-state tuition policy is ultimately ruled illegal by the Supreme Court.
Klein, in her letter Thursday, said the regents want Brnovich to await the Supreme Court review before bringing a lawsuit himself to void their tuition policy.
But not Heiler. “My main concern is that, no matter how you slice it, we’ve positioned ourselves in contravention of the law,” he said in an interview.