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On Trail, Perry Revisits In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students

In Iowa today, while discussing Texas' practice of allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, Gov. Rick Perry hedged on a key aspect of the policy — giving the same students access to state aid.

Gov. Rick Perry speaking at a Veterans for a Strong America event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 10, 2011.

MANCHESTER, Iowa — Asked at a campaign stop today about Texas' practice of allowing undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition, Gov. Rick Perry hedged on a key detail: He failed to acknowledge that such students also have access to state aid.

The policy, which has been highly scrutinized during Perry's presidential campaign, allows certain undocumented students — most of them brought to the country when they were very young — to establish residency. They must have graduated from a Texas high school, have lived in the state for three years before applying and sign an affidavit indicating their intent to apply for permanent residency status as soon as possible. It was put in place in 2001 and broadened in 2005, both by legislation signed by Perry.

Audio: Perry on In-State Tuition

In September, at a GOP presidential debate, the Texas governor famously sparked backlash when he defended the practice by arguing, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart."

Perry later called the statement “inappropriate” and said he “was probably a bit over-passionate.”

Perry is on the fifth day of his bus tour through Iowa, leading up to the state’s Jan. 3 caucuses. While he's discussed the state aid since the September debate, the issue had yet to come up on any of his stops along the tour — until today.

Manchester resident Tom Oakleaf asked about it during a Perry appearance at the local Pizza Ranch. The governor’s response was less “over-passionate” and more economical. “What the members of [the] legislature looked at was, we were either going to create taxpayers or we were going to create tax-wasters,” he said.

But Perry did not address a key component of the program when he characterized it for the Iowans in the audience. “We could either kick them to the side of the road so to speak,” he said, “or we could require them to get in line to get their citizenship and have them pay full in-state tuition to go to a university, community college, etc.”

In fact, some undocumented students don’t have to pay in-state tuition in full as Perry said, because the legislation also gave such students access the state aid available to all Texas residents.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state agency that monitors the implementation of such legislation, the state distributed 2,156 of the primary need-based grants — known as TEXAS Grants — in fiscal year 2010 to students who had established residency without documentation of citizenship, meaning most were very likely not in the United States legally. The total amount of the awards was approximately $7.8 million.

Perry’s campaign said they had nothing to add to the governor’s remarks today.

In October, when the Tribune asked the governor’s office about the issue, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed noted, “Students paying in-state tuition rates while pursuing citizenship — those who have lived in Texas for three years, contributed to the tax base, and are subject to the same tuition rates as other Texas residents — paid $32.7 million in tuition and fees in FY 2010, more than four times the amount they received in Texas Grants."

Meanwhile, Oakleaf, who believes that anyone known to be in the country illegally should be deported, said Perry’s response “skirted the issue.” That's not going to change Oakleaf's vote, though, because he’s been a longtime supporter of Mitt Romney.

“I like Rick,” Oakleaf said. “He’s comfortable, like an old suit, but he’s not polished.”

Romney — Oakleaf’s candidate of choice — has been a particular punching bag of Perry’s throughout the bus tour. Today, in his stump speeches, Perry incorporated a new attack taking on Romney, as well as fellow GOP rival Newt Gingrich and the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program from 2008.

He called the bailout the “single greatest act of thievery in American history." And then added, "Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were for it."

Earlier in the bus tour, Perry also took on Ron Paul, accusing him of “birthing” earmarks in the U.S. Congress. 

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