Two-thirds of state vot­ers sup­port for in-state tu­ition for un­doc­u­mented stu­dents,

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDY SHER NASHVILLE BUREAU Con­tact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@times­freep­ or 615-2550550. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @AndySher1.

NASHVILLE — Two-thirds of state vot­ers sur­veyed in a new poll say they back grant­ing in-state pub­lic col­lege and tu­ition rates to Ten­nessee high school grad­u­ates whose fam­i­lies brought them illegally as chil­dren to the U.S.

Sixty-six per­cent of 1,004 vot­ers sur­veyed in the Van­der­bilt Univer­sity Poll say such stu­dents de­serve in-state tu­ition in­stead of out-of-state rates, which can be three times as much.

Fifty-five per­cent of Repub­li­cans in the sur­vey said they sup­ported in-state tu­ition rates for the un­doc­u­mented stu­dents. Forty-eight per­cent of self-iden­ti­fied tea party sup­port­ers backed it, while 49 per­cent op­posed it.

The poll was con­ducted May 4-14 and has an over­all mar­gin of er­ror of plus-ormi­nus 3.3 per­cent.

“It’s fair to say that this is an is­sue that has broad sup­port across the state,” said Dr. John Geer, co-direc­tor of Van­der­bilt’s Cen­ter for the Study of Demo­cratic In­sti­tu­tions.

The ques­tion was among a num­ber of po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy is­sues pre­sented to reg­is­tered vot­ers in the sur­vey.

At­tempts to grant in-state tu­ition to un­doc­u­mented Ten­nessee high school grad­u­ates has been a ma­jor is­sue in the Gen­eral Assem­bly over the past three years. Two years ago, a bill eas­ily cleared the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate but failed in the Repub­li­can-run House by a sin­gle vote.

This year, the bill failed in a House panel on a tie vote, leav­ing a num­ber of young would-be stu­dents in tears.

The ef­fort has been spear­headed in the Se­nate by Sen. Todd Gar­den­hire, R-Chat­tanooga, who has re­peat­edly stressed that pro­vid­ing the stu­dents with the same pub­lic higher education tu­ition as other Ten­nessee res­i­dents will lead to their abil­ity to get bet­ter-pay­ing jobs, re­sult­ing in far less pub­lic ex­pense down the road.

“That’s good,” Gar­den­hire said of the poll find­ings, adding when he first polled the is­sue lo­cally four years ago, 56 per­cent of Repub­li­cans said they op­posed the in-state tu­ition idea.

The se­na­tor said as he con­tin­ues ex­plain­ing to col­leagues the eco­nomic ben­e­fits not only for the stu­dents but the pub­lic at large, he be­lieves he is find­ing “very few peo­ple can be against help­ing.”

“I think there’s a chance it can make it out [of the Gen­eral Assem­bly] next year,” said Gar­den­hire, not­ing Gov. Bill Haslam’s gas tax pro­posal this year com­pli­cated ac­tion on any num­ber of is­sues.

Stephanie Teatro, co-ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ten­nessee Im­mi­grant and Refugee Rights Coali­tion, said, “The over­whelm­ing sup­port for the bill shown in the poll reaf­firms what we’ve heard from teach­ers, busi­ness own­ers, and peo­ple of faith across the state: let­ting kids go to col­lege upholds our val­ues and ben­e­fits our en­tire com­mu­nity.”

With the bill’s failure this year by a sin­gle vote in the House com­mit­tee, Teatro said: “Hun­dreds of un­doc­u­mented stu­dents walked across the grad­u­a­tion stage this month with­out the chance to go to col­lege. Leg­is­la­tors that fought against these stu­dents are clearly out of touch with the ma­jor­ity of Ten­nesseans; hope­fully they’ll take note of the poll and sup­port this com­mon-sense bill next year.”

In an­other poll find­ing, vot­ers for the first time since at least 2012 have el­e­vated health care as be­ing of equal im­por­tance to the over­all econ­omy.

And Ten­nesseans’ think­ing about the var­i­ous com­po­nents of the health care de­bate have evolved, as well, il­lus­trat­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties not only for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and fel­low Repub­li­cans in the GOP-run Congress, in­clud­ing Ten­nessee, as they seek to change, elim­i­nate or re­place the Affordable Care Act, said Josh Clin­ton, co-direc­tor of Van­der­bilt’s Cen­ter for the Study of Demo­cratic In­sti­tu­tions.

Ap­proval of the Affordable Care Act in Ten­nessee reached an all-time high in the poll’s his­tory, al­though it re­mains well be­low 50 per­cent — 29 per­cent, to be pre­cise.

Back­ing ef­forts to fix the ACA in­stead of sim­ply re­peal­ing it or re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing it, grew to one in three re­spon­dents, a 5-per­cent­age-point in­crease since Novem­ber. Mean­while, 22 per­cent of poll re­spon­dents said they sup­port a sin­gle-payer health care sys­tem, rep­re­sent­ing a 6-point in­crease since the elec­tion.

Reg­is­tered vot­ers in the sur­vey showed strong sup­port for three ma­jor pro­vi­sions in the ACA, with nearly eight in 10 sup­port­ing a re­quire­ment for in­sur­ers to cover peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, as well as not charg­ing peo­ple be­cause of them. And they also back pro­vi­sions al­low­ing young adults to re­main on their par­ents’ in­sur­ance plan un­til age 26.

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