Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed school voucher program establishes an Education Savings Account (ESA) for an individual student. An Educational Savings Account makes taxpayer money available to parents to spend on a wide range of educational services, ranging from tutoring to computer software.
Governor Lee has publicly stated that his school voucher plan was intended only for “legal residents” of the state and proposed ensuring this by adding a requirement that applicants provide at least one of the documents listed in the state’s E-verify statute.
The bill’s original version did not require beneficiaries receiving voucher funds to submit any documentation demonstrating lawful presence in the United States. With an estimated 180,000 illegal aliens living in Tennessee, along with repeated legislative efforts to award in-state tuition to illegal alien students, questions were raised about how to prevent taxpayer education funds from being spent on individuals illegally in the U.S. However, providing documents required in the E-Verify statute will not cure the problem.
Despite the amendments aimed at proving lawful presence in the U.S., the voucher bill doesn’t include any process to verify documents submitted by the applicants. This opens up the door for applicants to submit fraudulent documentation of alleged lawful presence. Immigration document fraud has long been a major problem in the United States. And, Tennessee has not been immune to immigration fraud. In 2017, twenty illegal aliens were discovered working for a Memphis freight company using fake identity and work permit documents. They were indicted on federal document fraud charges. Inevitably, some illegal aliens relying on fraud to work in the U.S. are going to be parents – and there is no indication they won’t resort to the same type of fraud to obtain educational funds for their kids.
A 2017 poll published by The Tennessee Star, consistently showed that Tennessee Republicans solidly opposed extending benefits to non-citizens living in the state. In the six months between the June 2017 Tennessee Star poll and the December 2017 Tennessee Star poll, opposition to in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students among likely Tennessee Republican primary voters had actually increased–from 84 percent to 88 percent–while support has decreased–from 11 percent to 6 percent.
During his campaign, Governor Lee stated clearly that he was opposed to offering in-state tuition to illegal alien students and that he would veto the bill that was then pending but failed to pass in the state legislature.
He also campaigned on disincentivizing illegal immigration to Tennessee. A Governor Bill Lee campaign ad asked “Why can’t politicians stop illegal immigration?” and answered, “As a businessman, it seems pretty clear to me. It’s about incentives. Driver’s licenses and free tuition for illegal aliens, lawless sanctuary cities. All policies that would make Tennessee a magnet for illegal immigration. I will oppose every one of them as governor.”
Unfortunately for the Governor his school voucher plan is so soft on immigration fraud that it just isn’t consistent with his other tough-on-immigration promises.