Gubernatorial candidates weigh in on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Tennessee gubernatorial candidates expressed their opinions on whether non-natural citizens should be allowed in-state tuition during a Jan. 22 forum at Belmont University.

Five of the seven candidates who participated in the forum also addressed individual proposals to continue improving the education system throughout the state.

The event was sponsored by The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the USA TODAY network and Belmont University.

While all the participating candidates agreed on topics such as the importance of giving high school students more options for education after graduation and increasing teacher pay, they did not all agree on the issue of allowing non-natural citizens in-state tuition.

“For me, it’s really just an issue of fairness,” Republican Bill Lee said.

It wouldn’t be fair to offer something that Tennessee wouldn’t offer to an American citizen from Georgia, Lee said.

But Democrat Karl Dean argued that wasn’t a fair comparison.

“They’re different than Georgians, because they’re Tennesseans,” Dean said.

Some immigrants have grown up in Tennessee and are an active part of the community, he said.

Democrat Craig Fitzhugh had previously voted to pass a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to have in-state tuition. He said he would support it again. (

“It is cruel that we do not let these children that have lived in Tennessee all their life not have in state tuition,” he said.

Republican Beth Hartwell said she could not support that plan because she believes it is “illegal.”

“If in-state tuition is a bad thing, then it should be bad for my two children who live in America, because I paid out-of-state tuition for all eight years,” she said.

Republican Randy Boyd also opposed the idea. “My position would be that until they are lawful, then we would not be giving them the in-state tuition,” he said.

Bills that would allow individual institutions to determine the qualifications for a student to receive in-state tuition were proposed in both the state House and Senate last year. Neither passed.