JEFFERSON CITY -Only U.S. citizens and legal aliens would be allowed to participate in the A+ schools program, which provides grants to Missouri's best academic performing schools, if a bill sponsored by Rep. Susan Phillips, R-Kansas City had passed during this legislature.
"By introducing this bill, I just wanted to make sure that only U.S. citizens and legal immigrants could be eligible for the A+ program, as they pay taxes," Phillips said.
Phillips said she didn't have enough time to investigate the issue, so she asked the Education Committee not to schedule a hearing for her bill.
"I used to mentor a German girl who didn't have a visa and was attending an A+ High School," Phillips said. "That was what made me think that people who are not citizens and don't pay taxes can take advantage of the program."
So Phillips decided to file a bill restricting the A+ program only to U.S. citizens. But after a while, she talked to Immigration, and she decided to change her bill and include legal aliens.
"It's not fair that people who are not paying taxes can get these benefits," she said.
Phillips said she didn't know how many immigrant students were enrolled in A+ high schools, but that she didn't think there were too many.
Mike Hackenwerth, coordinator of the A+ program in Ozarks High School, in South-West Missouri, said they didn't have any case where the student wasn't a U.S. citizen.
"All the students who have graduated from our high school are U.S. citizens," he said. "Anyway, I don't think that illegal immigrants should be allowed to participate in the program."
But opponents to this bill argued that non-citizen students were also contributing to the status of these high schools, and therefore, they also deserved to receive the benefits of the scholarships.
"Isn't a school classified as an A+ school based on the performances by citizen and non-citizen students?," asked Kathleen Marie Navarro, member of the Latin American Student Association at MU.
"Any student who meets the qualifications should be allowed to enroll in the program," said Lisa Nieuwenhuizen, A+ program coordinator in Hickman High School.
Although the bill wasn't scheduled for a hearing during this legislature, Phillips said she didn't dismiss the idea of trying to pass the bill next legislature.
The A+ Schools program is a school improvement initiative established by the Outstanding Schools Act of 1993. The key goal of A+ Schools program is to assure that all students, when they graduate, are well-prepared to pursue advanced education, employment or both.
Students at A+ Schools who meet the requirements are eligible for state-funded financial assistance to attend a community college or a public vocational-technical school. The cost of tuition, fees and books are covered by the assistance.