Fox distorts CA ruling on in-state tuition to claim “your tax money could...go to educating illegals instead of Americans”

That wacky California is at it again! Or so Fox News would have us believe. In several segments on November 16, Fox News anchors distorted a recent California Supreme Court ruling that upholds a law allowing nonresidents who attended high school in California to pay in-state tuition. That group includes illegal aliens, and Fox was quick to paint the ruling as a step towards “immigration reform amnesty.”

Fox & Friends kicked off this story on November 16, when Gretchen Carlson teased the story by saying, “A court says illegal immigrants should be allowed to pay in-state tuition. Should they really get a discount on an American education?” Text at the bottom of the screen read, “Illegal discount.” Later in the episode, guest host Eric Bolling brought on Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. to discuss the California ruling. At one point, Bolling asked, “Is this the path to some sort of immigration reform amnesty?”

Later that day, guest host Shannon Bream on Fox's America Live promoted the story by saying, “Some of your tax money could soon go to educating illegals instead of Americans, U.S. citizens. And it's all been approved by a very powerful court.”

In fact, the law gives the same tuition benefits to U.S. citizens who meet its requirements, and in the nearly 10 years since it has passed, has largely benefited them, not illegal immigrants.

The 2001 law, AB 540, extends in-state tuition eligibility to any student who attended high school in California for three years and received a diploma there. Ten states now have similar laws. This week's ruling rejects plaintiffs' claims that the California provision violates federal law by providing educational benefits to undocumented aliens that citizens can't receive.

Not only does the law also apply to U.S. citizens and legal residents, those two groups are its largest beneficiaries. Students who attended boarding school in California, for example, or who have become residents of other states since graduating from Californian high schools, are the bulk of those able to take advantage of in-state rates. According to an October 2010 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, a judge in the California Supreme Court ruling “cited UC reports that more than 70 percent of the students paying lower fees because of the law are U.S. citizens or legal residents, not illegal immigrants.” In fact, the official UC statement on the November 15 ruling explains:

The law applies to students who attend high school in California for at least three years and graduate. It has benefited both undocumented students and U.S. citizens. In 2008-09, for example, nearly 80 percent of the 2,019 students who qualified under the law for tuition exemptions at UC were U.S. citizens or legal residents. Documented students have accounted for over two-thirds of those benefiting from the exemption in every year since the program's introduction at UC in 2002-03.

According to an April 2010 article in the Sacramento Bee, undocumented immigrants account for less than 1 percent of all students in the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges systems combined.

Somehow, this fact wasn't highlighted in any of Fox's reports on the court ruling.

Another key fact missing from Fox coverage: any undocumented aliens who apply to receive in-state tuition under AB 540 must sign an affidavit stating that they have filed or will file applications to the Immigration and Naturalization Service seeking legal residency. In fact, according to an LA Times article published at the time, “the affidavit requirement was crucial to winning the support of [then-]Gov. Gray Davis, who vetoed a similar measure in the past.”