A new report by the group New Jersey Policy Perspective finds even though students who are in the country illegally can now qualify for in-state tuition rates if they want to attend public colleges or universities, most do not because costs are still too high.

Gordon MacInnes, president of NJPP, said the time has come to allow these students to get student grants and loans — something they are not eligible for right now.

“The refusal to provide tuition aid grants and other forms of assistance makes no sense,” he said.

He compared this to a company spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to train employees, then laying them off when their training was completed, because the state pays for their education from kindergarten through high school.

“Politicians who claim to want to operate an efficient and effective government have another chance to honor that claim by investing in the education of students who have demonstrated tenacity and enterprise and their desire to contribute to their home state by becoming educated participants,” he said. “The cost would be modest but the return on investment would be well educated adults who can contribute to the state’s economic future.”

Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who is sponsoring a bill to extend access to aid as part of the Tuition Equality Act, said “we are trying with all of our might here in New Jersey to make best use of the limited resources that we have at our disposal, and within New Jersey we have an incredible resource that stands ready to help our economic growth and achievement.”

He added “although we’re providing in-state tuition rates it’s still not enough. Only 577 students, to the best of our knowledge, undocumented, are attending New Jersey universities and colleges and the reason for that is because of the economic inability to do so.”

Schaer said without student loans and grants “these children are being given an opportunity which they cannot take advantage of for the economic reasons.”

He estimated it would cost $7 million to offer students whose families are here illegally the loans and grants they need to be able to go to college.

New Jersey Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said he could support this idea, if a student could demonstrate his or her family had a three-year history of paying state and federal income taxes.

“We want to make sure that we’re not giving aid to someone who has not paid any taxes,’ he said.

Bramnick said a secondary requirement would be “if you had people that were equally qualified, one being undocumented and one documented, and there was one spot left, seems to me it would be hard to support the person who was undocumented.”

He added “I don’t think it’s that complicated — families of these students should be required to prove they’re paying taxes for at least three years because if someone wants tuition assistance and they’re not paying taxes, that doesn’t make any sense.”

In response to Bramnick’s idea, NJPP president MacInnes said “a very large portion of undocumented families work for cash, under the table if you will, and are therefore not filing returns with a tax identifying number, so I’m not certain it would be possible for their children to benefit from the law if they had to produce three years of paperwork. “

NJPP vice president Jon Whiten added “there are some undocumented families that file income taxes with individual taxpayer ID numbers and I suppose that would be the only way you could track them.”

But he also stressed Bramnick’s idea gives credence to a bigger myth “that undocumented families don’t pay any taxes at all."

"All undocumented families here in New Jersey are paying all sorts of state and local taxes, mostly sales and excise taxes. They pay property taxes, mostly passed on to them as renters, so it’s a tricky thing to try to try and do that because the fact is they are here and they’re paying taxes," Whiten said.

Schaer said “it’s certainly something we’d be willing to discuss, we would need to look at it closely.”

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