Financial aid bill set for full vote

The California State Assembly Committee on Appropriations approved a bill Friday which would provide state grants and financial aid to undocumented students in California and now moves to the Assembly floor for a full vote.

One of two bills that make up the state’s DREAM Act, Assembly Bill 131 — authored by Assemblymember Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles — passed through the committee with a vote of 11-5 after being suspended by the committee in mid-April due to concerns regarding the financial impact it would have on the state.

Though former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed versions of the act last year, Gov. Jerry Brown has said on several occasions that, should the act come to his desk, he would choose to approve it. Both UC President Mark Yudof and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau have publicly expressed their support for the act.

Under AB 540, nonresident students already qualify for in-state tuition fees by meeting certain requirements, including attending for three years and graduating from a California high school, among other requirements. However, undocumented students are not eligible for financial aid.

If enacted, AB 131 would allow undocumented students at California colleges and universities to be eligible for state financial aid such as Cal Grants.

The act’s other component — AB 130 — was passed by the Assembly May 5 and, if passed by the state Senate and enacted, would allow the UC, CSU and California Community Colleges systems to provide financial aid to undocumented students from their financial aid reserves.

Opponents of the act have said that providing state aid to undocumented students would be fiscally irresponsible at a time when the state is facing a nearly $10 billion deficit and state higher education institutions have had their budgets slashed in an effort to bridge the gap.

“We have limited resources; these measures would expand the pool of people competing for those resources and will essentially act as one more incentive for people to come here illegally,” said Assemblymember Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, in an April 13 statement.

Additionally, opponents have cited a lack of immigration reform as reason for concern in passing such legislation. Current immigration laws, they argue, would prevent employers from hiring the undocumented students that would benefit from the bill’s passage.

However, the act’s supporters have argued that there is still time for reform in immigration laws and that despite the immediate fiscal impact of the act, there are economic reasons to support the act — that it is crucial for students to become educated so that they can contribute to the state’s economy as tax-paying workers.

“The Committee is helping to foster the development of future architects, doctors, teachers, scientists and scholars who are crucial to the success of the California economy,” Cedillo said in a statement. “Increasing the earning potential of these students helps all of us by contributing to our tax base; thus improving services and resources.”

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.