Governor Brown signs Dream Act

Governor Brown fulfilled a campaign pledge today to extend financial aid to deserving undocumented college students by signing the California Dream Act into law.

AB 131, by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), allows students – whether U.S. citizens from other states or undocumented students – who meet specific criteria to apply for Cal Grants at the University of California and California State University, and for fee waivers at California community colleges.

“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” said Brown in a statement announcing his action Saturday morning. “The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”

AB 131 is part of a two-bill Dream Act package introduced by Cedillo. Brown also signed the other measure, AB 130, which permits undocumented students at UC and CSU to apply for private financial aid administered by the universities, in July.

Cedillo thanked the governor for giving “hope and opportunity to thousands of current and future students and their families,” and said that by signing both bills, Brown “will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration.”

Cedillo has tried five times to enact similar legislation. Four times it was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A fifth measure died in the state Senate.

The new laws apply to students who meet the requirements of AB 540. The 2001 bill, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, allows any student who attended a California high school for at least three years, graduated or earned a GED, and is in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship to pay in-state tuition rates at California’s public colleges and universities.

An analysis completed for the state senate found that AB 540 students accounted for less than three-tenths of a percent of students at UC, and that 70 percent of them were U.S. citizens or immigrants with legal status.

At CSU, about 3,633 students are classified as AB 540, while community colleges granted AB 540 waivers to a little more than 34,000 students. In both cases that amounts to less than 1 percent of the total enrollment; however, Cal State and community colleges don’t know how many of those students are undocumented and how many are legal immigrants or Californians who left the state for a time after high school and returned years later for college or graduate school.

According to Brown’s office, the California Department of Finance estimates that 2,500 students will qualify for Cal Grants under AB 131, at a cost of $14.5 million. That’s about 1 percent of the total Cal Grants program of $1.4 billion.

Both bills passed the Legislature on almost completely party-line votes. The sole exception was Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), who voted for AB 130.

Opponents say the law will invite further illegal immigration to California, draining resources that aren’t even adequate for legal residents. “Every additional dollar the state spends on illegal immigrants is a dollar it cannot spend on students who are here legally,” wrote Assemblyman Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach) in an Op-Ed in the Orange County Register.

Supporters counter that by allowing undocumented students to earn college degrees, California’s revenue would increase by about $15 million a year.

The California Dream Act takes effect on January 1, 2013.

Author: Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

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