Unintended consequences of Prop 300
Aug. 21, 2007
Yvonne Watterson is an immigrant. An American dreamer.
"This is the place where anything is possible," she says. "That's how I see it."
In the 1980s, Watterson came to the United States from Northern Ireland. She
began as a teacher and now is the principal of GateWay Early College High School
on East Van Buren Street in Phoenix.
The school is in a part of town where not many kids are expected to get a higher
education or even to finish high school.
"And while we've had great success, we have a situation now that is keeping me
up at night," she says. "It has to do with Proposition 300."
The 240 students at Watterson's school take college classes as they move through
a regular high-school curriculum. Some earn high-school and community-college
degrees at the same time.
Graduates of GateWay enter professions ranging from practical nursing to
automotive technology to Web development. Others go on to finish their studies
at four-year institutions.
Since transitioning to the early-college format a few years back, GateWay's
attendance has risen to 95 percent and its dropout rate has shrunk to 12
percent. Last year's graduating class of 15 students earned 286 college credits.
"It's been amazing," Watterson says. "Everything I dreamed of."
That is about to change. Proposition 300, which was passed overwhelmingly by
voters, says that Arizona students who cannot prove their citizenship must pay
out-of-state tuition for college. For some kids at GateWay, that reality will be
"I have bright, fantastic students," Watterson says. "Some of them were brought
to this country as babies. Thirty-seven that I know of will not be able to take
the college classes. In order to provide them with the same education we're
giving the others, I will need to come up with $86,000.
Since they cannot prove their residency, they don't otherwise qualify. These are
tremendous, highly motivated kids. They love the opportunities of this country.
But now that has been taken away."
Watterson wonders if those who voted for Prop. 300 might see this as an
unintended consequence. It's more likely, I tell her, that it is exactly what
"Do you really think so?" she says.
She tells the story of a student who dropped out of school when he heard that he
couldn't attend the college classes. He was carried to Arizona as an infant
after his father, a Mexican policeman, was killed. The boy's brother has a heart
ailment and it was his goal to become a cardiologist.
"In some ways, this whole thing takes me back to my student teaching in Belfast
in the early '80s," Watterson recalls. "I knew many of my students were engaged
in sectarian violence after school. So I learned very early on that schools are
and should be sacred. Places of hope and possibility.
Whereas, I knew that outside school, kids would most likely be in frightening
places of discrimination and even violence. Watching these students at GateWay
has aroused similar feelings in me."
Watterson is hoping that there may be people in the community who would
volunteer to privately sponsor some of her students, even as she recognizes that
others will condemn her for wanting to educate these kids in the first place.
"These students didn't make this problem," she says. "But they have such
potential. I believe that, if given a chance, these children can change hearts
She is an immigrant. An American dreamer. To her, anything is possible.
Reach Montini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-8978. Read his blog