The "D.C. In-State College Tuition Access Bill" is being hijacked by the members of a consortium of universities in Washington. If these 12 private colleges in the District -- ranging from Strayer College to the Corcoran School of Art -- have their way, they will capture between 25 percent and 50 percent of the bill's modest $17 million tuition assistance.

How private colleges got their nose under a tent whose sole purpose was to give D.C. residents parity with state residents for public college tuition is lobbying genius. But it is also a shocking example of arrogance toward the families of the District.

Because these private colleges could take up to half the bill's funding, members of the Senate and House conference committee are considering how to reduce D.C. students' eligibility to attend public universities. Instead of extending in-state tuition to 50 states -- the bill's original plan -- conferees are focusing on restricting the in-state tuition plan to a small region, possibly Virginia and Maryland and the six states contiguous to them. The conferees' thinking is this: The smaller the group of states, the smaller the group of D.C. kids who will qualify for public college tuition assistance, leaving intact the money required to service the interests of the District's private colleges.

Private colleges already receive special and highly beneficial tax treatment from the District. Of the 12 schools, the five largest received more than $1.786 billion in property tax exemptions last year and other tax breaks as well. Yet in exchange they never have offered tuition breaks to D.C. students, other than the means-tested financial assistance offered by almost every private college in the nation.

But when this new bill appeared -- with federal money attached -- these private colleges suddenly were eager to "help" D.C. families. Not by offering them a tuition break, of course. Instead they intend to make their tuition slightly more affordable by siphoning off funding intended for public college in-state tuition assistance.

Are 12 private local colleges a good or fair trade-off for access to every public university in all 50 states?

If these private institutions really have such a deep desire to "help" the District, they should leave this public college tuition bill alone and pursue the separate subject of private college tuition assistance with Congress in another legislative session.

This bill is not about lining the pockets of D.C. families. It is about getting the District's kids educated at public colleges at affordable in-state tuition rates. This tuition relief will help families stay in the District rather than moving to the suburbs, where their children would become eligible for in-state tuition.

For this consortium to ambush the funding for this bill -- after so many citizens have worked so hard to get a fair, simple idea put into law -- and to use us as workhorses to transport their self-interest is outrageous.

Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.), D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams need to hear that D.C. citizens want every cent of this bill's funding to go toward in-state tuition at public universities in all 50 states. This will maximize the odds that the largest number of D.C. graduates possible will be able to go to college.

-- Grant Stockdale

originated the proposal for an in-state college tuition plan.