The state legislature has passed a bill that would keep immigrants who aren’t legally in the U.S. from getting money from the state’s A-Plus scholarship program.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo credit; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo credit; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The program allows Missouri high school students to earn two years of tuition at a qualifying community college, paid by a grant from the state. It is available to students who have a “lawful presence” in the United States.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) says federal changes to the definition of “lawful presence” mean a new group of students could soon become eligible for the program, unless the legislature tells the Education Department it can’t take that rule making action.

“This change is necessary or else the department will begin giving illegal immigrants A-Plus scholarships without a vote of the general assembly,” said Fitzpatrick.

Republicans say the dollars that support the scholarships are already stretched thin, and say opening it up to a new population would further reduce how much each student could receive.

“If you add another group of students on to the program, the only way that you can do that is by reducing the amount of money that you’re going to make available for the Missouri citizens, kids who are already on the scholarship program,” said Fitzpatrick.

“We’re at the point where the kids are having to pay for one credit hour,” said Representative Shawn Rhoads (R-West Plains). “I really think if this program opens up even more to non-residents or whatever, then I think we’re creating a financial burden.”

Representative Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City) said the bill would punish students who have played by the book.

“There are a handful of students in this state who were brought here as a young child, often without any decision-making ability, and have not been granted citizenship. However, as law-abiding, contributing members of society, these students came forward with their situation to earn lawfully present status under federal guidelines,” said Arthur.

“I appreciate that A-Plus funds are limited, however this legislation does not fix the problem. The legislators’ self-created general revenue problems should not become the problems of qualified A-Plus students,” Arthur argued.

The plan has been sent to the governor. If he vetoes it, backers in the House would have to come up with at least one more vote than it received on passage, to overturn him.