Republican control of the Ohio Statehouse has not been kind to college students. Diminished funding for public higher education has left students and their families struggling with high tuition and mounting debt. Yet buried in the Ohio House budget bill is a break for students, in the form of a requirement that public universities give in-state tuition rates to students if they are provided a utility bill to use as voter identification.
Democrats see the move as another Republican-backed effort to suppress Democratic turnout, students part of the coalition that elected and re-elected President Obama. Republicans counter that they are just helping lower tuition.
If that’s so, the step not only reverses recent budget trends that have led students and families to shoulder a higher percentage of the cost of a college degree. It also clashes with state law governing who qualifies for in-state tuition.
Registering to vote in Ohio is relatively easy, compared to getting to pay in-state tuition. The former requires 30 days of residency. Requirements for establishing residency for the purpose of in-state tuition are far more demanding.
An independent student, for example, must show residency for 12 months before enrollment and no evidence of support, direct or indirect, from an out-of-state person or entity. In effect, Republicans are seeking to reduce all that to a simple, 30-day residency requirement.
Democrats understandably fear that if the House provision becomes law, state universities, fearing the loss of revenue from out-of-state students, simply would stop providing documents that can be used as voter identification in Ohio.
Besides running counter to budget trends and the law on in-state tuition, the last-minute amendment to the House budget bill also departs from recent Republican efforts to tighten voter identification requirements by requiring a picture ID. A bill to do so passed the House in the past session, but died in the Senate. Unfortunately, there is interest in trying again.
While taking up the budget, the Senate should strip away the House language on in-state tuition. Better to sufficiently fund higher education.