After much deliberation (and a flashback of the time we were robbed at gunpoint in my husband’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida), my husband and I decided we would settle in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas after he retires from his last duty station here in Stuttgart, Germany. It seemed like a great idea. My older two had been born there and I have family and friends throughout the area.
We began plans to move our college-bound children ahead of us so they could get established in school, jobs, and homes of their own. As I did with every move we’ve made, I researched our home-to-be in advance. Every place the Marine Corps has stationed us has had its challenges, disappointments, and highlights. Having not lived in Kansas since 1985, I expected things had changed, in fact I knew they had. I’d kept up with local news even before we had Internet access. I was even twice featured in the once renowned Bob Getz column of the Wichita Eagle, after I’d left home, for letters I’d written about how much and why I missed my hometown.
I wasn’t sure if I was more jazzed about our having finally made a decision about where to retire or the fact that we were going to move into my old stomping grounds. Alas, all good things must come to an end. What goes up must come to a screeching halt in mid-air and land with a resounding thud. Before I had even looked at my first real estate ad or perused the cultural delights of Wichita’s museums, I was hit with an obstacle so insurmountable, we’ve reversed all plans. My husband is now currently entertaining job offers from within Europe and the east coast, offers he’d previously put off in favor of a relatively quiet Midwestern life.
Greater than the 120 degree heat of the Mojave desert, greater than the hurricanes of North Carolina, even greater than the language barriers of Western Europe — Kansas will not accept my children into college as a resident of that state for tuition purposes. To be fair, they are the resident of no state. Not one. They’ve lived abroad for the past three years and thus meet none of the criteria to be a resident of any state. Because I’m from Kansas and have family in Kansas, I honestly thought there would be a way through that glitch. Further, my children weren’t out of the country for any reason other than because their father was stationed outside the United States.
While other states have waivers that allow resident status within 90 days of arrival and/or a refund of the non-resident rate after six months, Kansas has no such waiver and requires documentation of having lived there for the year one must have lived there to qualify as a resident. Kansas has what they call an appeals process. Many states have an appeals process, but none are as fun as what we’ve experienced thus far.
To put this process into motion, one must first get accepted. It took Wichita State University (WSU) three months to decide to accept my son — on the condition that he pays non-resident rates. Now comes the Application for Resident Classification (ARC). This is a four-page form to be filled out and accompanied by over ten documents ranging from a picture form of ID to this year’s tax return. Over half the information requested on this form was also requested on the enrollment form. No matter. He’s a military child. He’s used to things done in triplicate. There are three spaces for all previous addresses. My son has 11 previous addresses. WSU suggested he attach the rest on a separate piece of paper. It asks for the state in which one is registered to vote. All of our absentee ballot applications were “lost in the mail” along with thousands of other military absentee ballot applications. It was in the news; it must be true that they were lost and not just ignored. WSU suggested noting this on a separate piece of paper. Knowing the applicant will be coming from out of state or even out of country, the application asks for the “Current address while attending this institution.” WSU suggested answering this with the address at which he intends to live. (I suggested an Eastborough address. Wichitans will think that’s funny.) It further asks, “When did your current period of physical presence in Kansas begin?” WSU suggested my son answer the question with a date in the future. It’d have to be, now wouldn’t it? But is that going to hamper the appeals process? The world may never know. As the pre-appeals part of the process, the ARC must be completed, submitted, reviewed, and the request for resident status declined before the appeals process can actually begin. If the timeline of his acceptance is any indication, we should be hearing from the ARC-reviewers some time in August. Assuming a similar timeline for the appeals form, we’re looking at November. Too bad, too, as WSU’s fall semester will have already started by then. And who’s to say any of this time and effort won’t have all been for naught?
I’m one to say; and I say as much because it’s been made clear to me by several people at WSU, the Kansas Board of Regents, and by those answering the phones in the offices of my representatives that non-Kansans, even those born in Kansas who were away with their military parent, have to pay the non-resident rate for a period of one year, no exceptions. That’s right, “no exceptions.” What then could possibly be the point of an appeals process? As we’d started down this slippery slope in the early fall of 2005, my son had hoped to begin the fall semester at WSU this year. Clearly, that will not happen — not at the resident rate. My daughter has understandably refused to engage in the battle for the right to attend school and pay resident rates in the state in which she was born. She is going to attend school in the slightly less anal-retentive state of California.
The kids and I having been born in Kansas, I honestly didn’t think to inquire about this process until it was time to send them to college. I didn’t consider there would even be a process. It wasn’t until I went to enroll the kids that I found out just what an outsider I had become — and I’d spawned outsiders, to boot. Because I worked at home most of their lives, I didn’t pay state taxes as no one was paying me to raise my children. I have, however, maintained a Kansas driver’s license this entire time. I’ve visited my family frequently through the years to include having driven and flown home to attend family functions, including my Mother’s funeral. The biological father of my two children, a Kansas native and resident, has lived, worked in, and paid states taxes to Kansas for the better part of the last 15 years. My ex-husband and I were married in Kansas. My husband now, and the only father the children have ever known, did also marry me in the state of Kansas. Nonetheless, laments the Board of Regents and the registrar’s office of Wichita State University, my children are not residents of Kansas for tuition purposes. To hell with the years it took us to build on the accounts to fund our children’s education or the luxuries we had to forgo to do it (Kansas does love to ask if we own property in the state) – the money will be eaten up at a rate four times that of a person who wasn’t born there but has lived there for one year. The financial aid people were good enough to tell us my son doesn’t qualify for any aid until a set amount of his college fund is gone. So just a couple of semesters then, eh?
I’d love to play the military child card, but I can’t. I’d love to say my husband’s service to his country in the form of numerous deployments to over 25 countries including Croatia, Liberia, and Iraq, means nothing to the state of Kansas. But the truth is, if a military service member, without any ties whatsoever to the state of Kansas, is stationed in the state of Kansas, his/her children could attend school at the in-state rate — and take their education elsewhere with Kansas’ blessing. That doesn’t apply to the children of military retirees nor does that apply to children who are seeking to attend college before their parent retires or transfers to Kansas from another location. I’ll give Kansas a break — it’s not the military child they don’t want. It’s the child who was born in Kansas, has family in Kansas, wishes to attend a school in Kansas, and who intends to use their education in the state of Kansas — this is the child they don’t want, at least not on the cheap. I get it. Support the troops, but not too much. I almost feel like my children are some sort of academic radioactive waste – no one wants them in their backyard.
Yes, I’ve contacted my representatives. Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt’s office says it’s not a federal issue and therefore not Tiahrt’s jurisdiction. I wasn’t trying to make it a federal issue but thanks for your time. I guess he’s not in Kansas anymore. Jeremy Wisdom, of Tiahrt’s office, did follow up with me and make what I thought was an attempt to help resolve the issue. I thought this until he sent me the Kansas State Regulations regarding in-state tuition — a document I’d told him I already had and had read. Mr Wisdom was also kind enough to at least direct me to the Kansas Board of Regents, something Eric Sexton of Wichita State University and his personnel neglected to do in the course of several calls to his office and two emails from Mr Sexton himself. Mr Sexton did, however, email to say he appreciated my patience and would get back to me when he had more information. That was October 27th, 2005. I’ve not heard from him since. Everyone else has similarly referred me away from their having to admit they just don’t know how to help or flat out won’t try. Dissimilarly, there was that minor issue with Senator Sam Brownback’s office. The person who had been briefed of my situation before taking my call had an observation to make once she took the call and then hung up without answering the question, “What is your name?” She said something we military spouses everywhere loathe to hear. It has been bad enough to hear it from civilians over the years, most especially from distant and insensitive boofs from my own family, but to have heard it from my Senator’s office was a bit too much.
“Well,” she said. “You chose that life.”
Yes, I did. I’m not sure what in the Sam Hill that has to do with the price of tea in China, but yes, Mr Brownback’s voicebox, you are correct. My husband chose to join the Marine Corps and I chose to marry him.
Let us eat cake. Or, in this case, wheat.