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.

Baker’s dozen bills before Brown

(Kathy and John combined efforts on this post.)

It all comes down to one person. Dozens of education bills passed in the final days of the legislative session are now in Gov. Brown’s hands. He has until October 9th to sign or veto. Here are highlights of some of the most controversial and comprehensive measures.

SB 611 (Darrell Steinberg, D- Sacramento): The University of California has approved thousands of Career Technical Education courses as qualifying for admission to UC and CSU campuses under the A-G requirements. But nearly all of them have been approved only as electives, not as core subjects. This bill would authorize a new UC institute to work directly with high school teachers to develop dozens of CTE courses that would qualify as math, English, and science courses for UC and CSU admission – a big shift in UC’s approach to CTE and potentially a boost for partnership academies and programs that stress career and college readiness.

SB 547 (Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento):  This bill would replace California’s long-standing school rating system, known as the Academic Performance Index, or API, with an Education Quality Index, or EQI. It would also fulfill the original intent of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 by requiring the State Department of Education, in consultation with an advisory committee, to develop multiple measures for the EQI rating that include graduation rates, a college preparedness index, and a career readiness index in addition to the STAR test and High School Exit Exam. A similar bill, AB 400, passed the Legislature in 2007, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

AB 1330 (Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach): High school students would be able to substitute a year-long career technical course (CTE) for either a year of foreign language or of visual/performing arts as one of 13 courses needed to graduate from high school. Supporters of the bill say it would give students at risk of dropping out an engaging alternative to keep them interested in school. Opponents, who include those who want to qualify more students for four-year colleges, worry districts will cut back courses in arts and foreign languages, making it harder for students to qualify for CSU and UC campuses. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year.

AB 47 (Jared Huffman, D-Marin): Under the 2-year-old Open Enrollment Act, students in the state’s 1,000 lowest-performing schools are theoretically eligible to attend better schools outside of their own district (it’s too soon to see how often it’s been used). This bill would tighten eligibility rules to weed out schools that, because of quirks in the law, are not among the lowest-performing 10 percent. It would  exclude schools with over 700 API, among the new requirements. Open Enrollment was passed to strengthen the state’s Race to the Top application. Republican senators strongly opposed loosening the law.

SB 300 (Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley): California’s science standards haven’t been touched since their adoption 13 years ago. This bill, written by the California Science Teachers Association, would establish a process to revise them by 2013. Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson would appoint a committee of science educators that would do the work under a tight timeline; the State Board of Education would have to approve the new standards. The standards would be based on Next Generation Science Standards, a multistate effort that would become the science version of the Common Core standards. Traditionalists who created the current standards are skeptical.

AB 131 (Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles): Undocumented students who meet certain requirements have been allowed to pay in-state tuition at California’s public colleges and universities since 2002. But efforts to provide them with public financial aid have failed for years. That began to change this year when Gov. Brown signed AB 130, the first of two bills by Assemblyman Cedillo collectively known as the California Dream Act. While AB 130 allows undocumented students who meet the in-state tuition requirements to apply for private financial aid offered through state colleges and universities, AB 131 is a harder sell. It would open CalGrants to these students. Opponents say that in a time of steep budget cuts it’s unfair to legal residents to give money to undocumented students, and they warn that it could create an incentive for more people to come here illegally.

AB 743 (Marty Block, D-Lemon Grove): Nowhere is the disjuncture between high school and college expectations more pronounced than in the state’s 112 community colleges. Between 70 and 85 percent of students who take a community college placement exam aren’t ready for college-level math or English. But there’s no consistency in the tests, because there are nearly as many different exams as there are community colleges. AB 743 would establish uniform placement exams in math and English.  They wouldn’t be mandatory, but colleges that continued to use their own placement tests would miss out of big savings from the volume discount.

SB 161 (Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar): Children who suffer severe epileptic seizures risk brain damage or even death unless they receive emergency medical care within five minutes. SB 161 would allow school staff to voluntarily take a course to learn how to administer Diastat, a an emergency anti-seizure medication, with parents’ written consent. State law already allows teachers and staff to administer other emergency medications, but Diastat is different because it’s given rectally. Although the bill has strong bipartisan support, it’s been targeted by major labor unions, including both teachers unions and the nurses association, which tried to use it as leverage to reverse the loss of school nurses in recent years due to budget cuts.

Foster youth

AB 194 (Jim Beall, D-San Jose): Assemblyman Beall has been a strong proponent of legislation to help foster youth complete their education. AB 194 requires the 112 community college campuses and California State University campuses to grant priority enrollment to current and former foster youth up through age 24, and urges the University of California to do the same. Supporters hope the bill will help keep foster youth in college by making it easier for them to get the classes they need to graduate, especially as budget cuts have forced public colleges to reduce the number of course sections they offer. Currently, about 20 percent of foster youth enroll in college, and barely 3 percent graduate. The bill would sunset July 1, 2017.

AB 709 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): It’s not uncommon for foster children to be moved to different schools many times during their youth.  This bill would add a section to the state’s Health and Safety Code, bringing it into conformity with provisions of the Education Code requiring schools to immediately enroll foster youth even if they can’t provide the school with all their medical records, including proof of immunizations. This bill has no opposition and passed the Senate and Assembly without any no votes.

Common Core

Three bills before the governor would combine to place California on a timeline to prepare for the implementation of Common Core standards and assessments.

AB 250 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): The State Board of Education approved Common Core standards in math and English language arts a year ago. The state belongs to a multistate consortium that is developing the Common Core standardized tests that will be aligned to the new standards. This bill would start the process of filling in the gaps. It would require the State Board to adopt new curriculum frameworks, which flesh out standards into a detailed road map, by May 2013 for math and a year later for English language arts. It would require the state Department of Education to work with the State Board on developing training for teachers in Common Core subjects. It also would extend STAR, the current standardized tests, until the replacements are introduced in 2015.

SB 140 (Alan Lowenthal, D- Long Beach): California has postponed any new textbook adoptions until after Common Core standards are in place. But with those new standards come the new student achievement tests. In order to make sure that students are prepared for those Common Core assessments, this bill would require the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education to develop criteria for evaluating supplemental instructional materials that include Common Core content standards, and then to compile a list of those materials for kindergarten to eighth grade for English language arts and kindergarten to seventh grade for math. (Eighth grade math isn’t included because of a disagreement about whether the state’s math standard should include Algebra 1 in that grade.) Schools wouldn’t be required to choose from the list, or to use any supplemental materials. SB 140 has no organized opposition; however, votes in the Assembly and Senate were almost entirely along party lines.

AB 124 (Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar): Fuentes’ bill ensures that the Common Core standards extend to English learners. It would require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a group of experts in English language instruction to revise and align the curriculum, materials, and assessments for Common Core so they’re appropriate for English learners.

Gov. Brown signs Dream Act – Part 1

Gov. Jerry Brown ended a veto streak by his predecessor, signing a bill to let undocumented college students apply for private scholarships at state colleges and  universities. AB 130 is one of a two-bill set by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) that makes college more affordable for students brought to the country illegally by their parents.

During a signing ceremony (watch the video here) Monday in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at Los Angeles City College, Cedillo praised Gov. Brown for being a man of his word and for his courageous leadership on this issue.  The Governor had made signing a state Dream Act one of his campaign promises during a debate with rival Meg Whitman.

Assemblyman Gil Cedillo at signing of his bill AB 130, part of the California Dream Act (photo from Assembly Access video)
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo at signing of his bill AB 130, part of the California Dream Act (photo from Assembly Access video)

“By being here today you are giving testament to the importance of education and the value of hard work, dedication and academic excellence regardless of immigration status,” Cedillo said to the Governor.

The second part of the Dream Act, AB 131, faces a tougher road because it would open the state-funded Cal Grants program to the students.  That bill is currently on hold in the state senate and won’t be acted on until the legislature returns from summer break in a couple of weeks. Gov. Brown has not said whether he’ll sign it if it should pas, but has indicated that he supports the principles behind the act.

Governor calls AB 130 an “investment in people”

In his remarks, Brown continued the theme of making higher education accessible, noting that half of all babies born in California are born into very low income families, and investing in their education is an investment in the state’s economic viability.

Gov. Brown signs Dream Act on back on its author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (photo from Assembly Access video)
Gov. Brown signs Dream Act on back on its author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (photo from Assembly Access video)

“This is one piece of a very important mosaic, which is a California that works for everyone, and a California who understands where our strength is,” and that’s not just in having extra money for entertainment said the Governor.  “It’s also being able to go to a Community college or a state college and being able to afford it.”

Then in an impromptu lighthearted moment, the Governor placed the bill on Cedillo’s back and signed it so everyone in the room could get a view of the historic event.  AB 130 takes effect on January 1, 2010.

Critics warn that the law invites 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. “Such an action will only act as another magnet to encourage more illegal immigration because of all the generous taxpayer-funded benefits that California offers.”

The new law and its sister bill pertain to a specific group of undocumented students; those who meet the requirements for instate tuition through AB 540.   The 2001 bill, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, lets any student who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated or earned a GED in California, pay resident tuition rates at the University of California, California State University and California community colleges.

Federal DREAM Act remains in doubt

Although it didn’t overshadow Monday’s ceremony, uncertainty over the federal DREAM Act wasn’t far from thought.  In a jab directed at Congress and President Obama, Cedillo urged Washington to make the federal DREAM Act a bigger priority.

“We hope and pray and we wait for immigration reform to come from Washington, and we hope and pray for leadership to come from the White House,” said Cedillo.

The federal legislation differs significantly from Cedillo’s bills by creating a path to citizenship for some undocumented students, something only Congress can do. The most recent version was defeated during the lame-duck session just after last November’s election that swept the GOP into the House leadership.

Ten years after if was first introduced in Congress, supporters are showing no signs of backing down.  Senator Dick Durban (D-Illinois) and Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) reintroduced the DREAM Act this past May as S. 952 and H.R. 1842.  The official title is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011.

Dream Act sent to governor

And they’re off!  Bills flew through the senate and assembly chambers as lawmakers wrapped up as much business as possible before leaving for summer recess on Thursday afternoon.   When they return on August 15th, the docket will still be full, but the fate of some key education bills is coming into sharper focus.  Here’s where they stand.

Civil and Equal Rights

AB 130 and AB 131: California Dream Act of 2011
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo

The state senate passed and sent to Gov. Brown the first of two Dream Act bills by Assemblyman Cedillo allowing some undocumented college students to apply for private scholarships at California’s state colleges and universities.

None of this money comes from the state budget; it’s from private donors who establish scholarships administered through UC, Cal State and community colleges.  To be eligible, students will have to meet the requirements for paying in-state tuition under AB 540, a 2001 law that applies to any student, citizen or not, who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated or earned a GED.

The bill passed by a vote of 26 to 11 along party lines, with one exception.  Republican State Senator Anthony Cannella voted with the majority.  In a prepared statement, Cannella said, “Having an educated workforce will be critical to the future strength and health of our economy, and giving eligible high-school graduates the opportunity to apply for private scholarship funds – at no cost to California taxpayers – is consistent with this goal.”

It may also help that his district, which covers Merced, Monterey and Salinas, is more than 55 percent Latino. It also has more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Cedillo’s companion bill, AB 131, faces a tougher road.  That one would let AB 540 students apply for state financial aid through the CalGrants program.  AB 131 was placed on the senate appropriations committee suspense file and won’t be considered until late August.

Status:  On the Governor’s desk.  Gov. Brown hasn’t said whether he’ll sign AB 130, however, his spokesman says the Governor “continues to support the principles behind the Dream Act and will closely consider legislation that reaches his desk.”

SB 48:  The FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act
Senator Mark Leno

Gov. Brown signed this landmark bill on Wednesday, July 13, making California the first state in the nation to include the accomplishments of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in school textbooks and instructional materials.

“History should be honest,” said the Governor in a written statement.  “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state.”

Status: Signed into law by Gov. Brown.

Charter Schools

AB 86Charter School Authorizing Petitions
Assemblyman Tony Mendoza

Gives classified employees a voice in creating a new charter school or converting an existing public school to a charter school.

Under the current charter school law, petitions for new charter schools need enough signatures from parents or guardians to equal at least half the number of students expected to enroll in the school during its first year, or by at least half the number of teachers expected to be hired the first year.

Mendoza’s bill gives classified employees a voice in creating new charter schools by adding their signatures to those currently required from teachers and other certificated staff (excluding administrators), that equal at least one-half the number of all those employees that the charter expects to hire.

Status: Ordered to a third reading in the senate.

AB 360: Charter Schools
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

This bill is intended to create more transparency in charter schools by requiring charter school board meetings to be open to the public under one of the state’s open-meeting laws – the Ralph M. Brown Act or the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, and it would require charter school governing boards to adopt conflict of interest policies.

Status:  AB 360 passed the state senate on July 14 and is headed back to the assembly to address some amendments.

AB 440: Charter Schools Academic & Fiscal Accountability
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

This bill and one in the state senate by Sen. Joe Simitian covered similar ground in setting rigorous academic standards that charter schools must meet as a condition for having their charters renewed.  The legislators, along with the California Charter Schools Association, reached an agreement on accountability standards for renewal and wrote them into AB 440 and Simitian’s bill, SB 645 (see below).  In addition, AB 440  would allow school boards to consider an operator’s history of managing charter schools and whether the school’s student population reflects the demographics of the local population when deciding whether to renew a charter. It also requires charter schools to hire the same high quality financial auditors as their school districts.

Status: Awaiting hearing in Senate appropriations committee.

SB 645: Charter School Renewals
Senator Joe Simitian

The agreement with Assemblywoman Brownley and the California Charter Schools Association amended SB 645.  Now, in addition to containing the same academic accountability standards as AB 440, this bill also makes changes to the Charter School Facility Grant Program to provide assistance with facility rent and lease costs for charter schools, based on the percentage of pupils who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Status: Amended in the assembly and sent back to the Assembly appropriations committee.

Community College

AB 108: Community College Fee Hike
Assembly Budget Committee

Community College students could get a reprieve from new fee hikes under this legislation.  Fees are currently due to increase from $36 per unit to $46 per unit at the start of the fall 2011 term.

This bill would allow that increase only if the state’s General Fund revenue forecast for the 2011-12 fiscal year are less than $ 87,452,500,000.  If the fee hike is necessary, it would start with the winter term, rather than the fall term.

Status: AB 108 passed the state senate on July 14, and has been sent to Gov. Brown.

AB 743: Community College Common Assessments
Assemblyman Marty Block

Each of California’s 112 community colleges uses a slightly different version of the student placement tests for math and English, and each school has its own cut-off score, the grade below which students are placed in remedial courses.

Block’s bill would require the Community College Board of Governors to establish a common assessment system.

Status: AB 743 is on the Senate appropriations committee suspense file and will be considered in August after lawmakers have completed work on all other bills.

Foster Youth

SB 578: Partial Credit for Foster Youth
Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod

Education is often disrupted for foster youth because they’re frequently moved from home to home.  Sen. McLeod’s legislation helps foster youth stay on track for high school graduation by requiring schools to grant partial credit for courses a foster child was taking in one school before being moved to a different school.

Status: Scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly appropriations committee on August 17.

AB 194: Public postsecondary education: priority enrollment: foster youth
Assemblyman Jim Beall, Jr.

This bill would require the California State University and each community college district, and requests the University of California, grant priority registration for classes to foster youth and former foster youth.

Status:  Placed on the Senate appropriations committee suspense file to be considered after lawmakers have completed work on all other bills.

AB 709: Foster Children:  School Placement
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

It’s not unusual for foster youth change homes and schools many times during their childhood.  Brownley’s bill would require new school to immediately enroll foster children even if they’re missing their immunization records.

Status:  AB 709 has been ordered to a third reading in the state senate.

Health and Safety

AJR 10: School Based Health Centers
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

This resolution would declare the Legislature’s support for the school-based health center program, asking Congress to appropriate funds for the program under the 2010 federal health care reform law. The resolution also declares the Legislature’s support for including these centers in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. School based health centers provide health, dental and psychological services targeting the 1.5 million California students without health insurance. Research shows the centers improve academic performance and success by boosting attendance rates.

Status: Awaiting vote on Senate Floor.

SB 614:  Whooping Cough Immunization Grace Period
Senator Christine Kehoe

Kehoe’s bill gives California school districts a 30-day grace period from a new state law that prohibits them from enrolling any student in grades 7 through 12 who hasn’t been vaccinated against whooping cough.

Status: SB 614 passed the senate by a vote of 38-0.  It’s an urgency bill, which means it will take effect immediately if the Governor signs it.

SB 161: Emergency medical assistance: administration of epilepsy medication.
Senator Bob Huff

Since school nurses are becoming a vanishing breed due to budget cuts, this bill would allow teachers or other school personnel to receive medical training to administer a specific drug prescribed to some children with epilepsy.

It’s become a sensitive issue because the medication is a rectal suppository, and school employees are concerned they can be held legally liable if something happens to the child.  Supporters counter that this particular medication must be administered immediately when a child has a seizure and there’s no time to call a parent to come to the school.

Status:  Amended and sent back to the Assembly appropriations committee.

Standards and Assessment

SB 740Pupil Assessment
Senator Loni Hancock

One of the more controversial education bills this session, SB 740 would eliminate second-grade STAR testing.  Hancock points to research warning that high-stakes achievement tests are inappropriate for preschool and early elementary school children, and recommends diagnostic testing instead.

Opponents say that waiting until the end of third grade to learn whether students are working below grade level is too late.

Status:  Scheduled for a vote in the Assembly appropriations committee on August 17.

SB 547: Public School Performance Accountability
Senator Darrell Steinberg

SB 547 would reduce the emphasis on the California Standards Test by limiting the exams to no more than 40 percent of a high school’s overall ranking, and a minimum of 40 percent for middle and elementary schools.

It would also replace the Academic Performance Index (API), with a new system known as the Education Quality Index, or EQI, which would be based on graduation rates and how well schools prepare students for college and career success in addition to test scores. A committee headed by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson would develop other measures.

Status:  Scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly appropriations committee on August 17.

AB 224:  School Accountability:  Academic Performance Index
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla

This legislation would add some new measures to the state’s Academic Performance Index (API).  Currently, 60 percent of a school’s API ranking comes from students’ scores on the California Standards Tests.

Bonilla’s bill would include other indicators of achievement including graduation rates and preparations for college.

Status: Re-referred to the Senate appropriations committee.

In-state fees for the undocumented

When David and Carlos walk at UCLA’s graduation this Friday, they’ll be thanking their parents, their professors, and AB 540 – the 2001 law that lets some undocumented students pay in-state fees at California’s public colleges. On Monday, more than five years after the first lob in a legal challenge to the California law, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the final two words upholding AB 540: Petition Denied. With that, the high court refused to hear an appeal of last November’s California Supreme Court ruling in support of the law.

“If it wasn’t for AB 540 I would not have had an education,” said Carlos, whose parents brought the family to California from Mexico City when he was 14 years old. David agrees. He arrived from South Korea at the age of nine. “I think the [U.S.] Supreme Court is realizing that we’re just students who want access to higher education and that education is a right for all students regardless of their immigration status.”

It may seem a bit confounding that two generally conservative benches the U.S and California Supreme Courts – both upheld a law giving a financial break to students here illegally. “It’s hard to read anything into it,” said Ethan Schulman, a lawyer for the University of California. But since the State Supreme Court ruling was so well reasoned and was a unanimous decision, Schulman expected this decision. “No, we weren’t surprised,” he said, “but obviously we’re very pleased.”

“Illegal alien tuition Scheme”

Opponents charged that AB 540 was nothing more than an end-run around federal immigration law, which prohibits states from providing any benefits to “an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States” unless the same benefit is given to all U.S. citizens. They called it an “illegal alien tuition scheme.”

The state Supreme Court rejected that argument, noting that the exemption is available to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria. That would include a student from another state who attended a boarding school in California, or someone who left the state after high school to work or enlist in the military for several years and later returned to California for college.

“Because the exemption is given to all who have attended high school in California for at least three years (and meet the other requirements),” wrote the state court, “we conclude the exemption is not based on residence in California. Rather, it is based on other criteria.”

Cost versus benefit

Another key argument against AB 540, especially during these difficult budget times, is the cost. Out-of-state students attending the University of California pay nearly $23,000 a year on top of the regular fees of about $11,300 a year. At California State University, residents pay about $4230 a year, while out-of-state students pay an additional $372 for each credit.

But UC and CSU officials say most AB 540 students are U.S. citizens. Of nearly 1,600 students granted tuition exemptions at UC, more than 1,000 are U.S. citizens, according to the University’s annual report on AB 540 exemptions. Almost every one of the 425 graduate students under AB 540 is a citizen.

David will be one of the few undocumented graduate students when he begins his master’s program in the fall. Carlos earns his MSW later this week. Even though it took him several years longer to get through college, Carlos considers himself one of the lucky ones because he was in tenth grade when he came to California. Just a year later and he would have missed one of the eligibility requirements of AB 540: spending at least three years in a California high school. He recently got married and hopes to be on the path to citizenship very soon so he can start work. “My education was a good investment by California taxpayers,” said Carlos. “I’ll be able to put it to use very soon.”

Eleven other states have similar laws – Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin – and Connecticut is expected to join them shortly. But, like California, some of them face challenges. Maryland’s governor just signed the state’s bill last month and it’s already facing a petition drive to block it from taking effect, and the Nebraska and Texas laws have been challenged in court.

UC attorney Schulman says those cases may be helped by Monday’s decision. “Although the California Supreme Court decision is not binding on those courts, I think it’s possible they’ll look to it for guidance.”

California Dream Act moves forward

The sixth time may be a charm for Los Angeles Assemblyman Gil Cedillo’s crusade to pass a state version of the Dream Act.  By a party-line vote of 46-25,  the Assembly yesterday approved AB 131 and sent it to the Senate.  The bill would let undocumented immigrants who meet in-state tuition requirements, apply for Cal Grants to attend California’s public colleges and universities, and fee waivers at the state’s community colleges.

AB 131 is part of a pair of bills that together give the undocumented students access to financial aid.  It’s twin, AB 130, which passed the Assembly in May, would allow the students to apply for private scholarships administered by the University of California, Cal State University and community colleges, as long as they don’t include any state money.

Only students who meet the requirements for paying in-state tuition under AB 540 would be covered by 130 and 131.  The 2001 law applies to any student, U.S. citizen or not, who attended a California high school for three or more years and graduated from the school, or earned a state GED.

“I ask you to do what is justified and fair,” Cedillo said during yesterday’s floor debate, according to the Associated Press.  “This is in the best interests of the state of California.”

Of course not everyone feels that way.  Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), a long time opponent of the Dream Act and AB 540, said the legislation creates an incentive for more people to come here illegally.  “It will eventually take the limited pool of resources and funds that are available right now to legal lawful residents of the state of California and it will divide those further,” he said when AB 130 came to the floor of the Assembly last month.

As we reported earlier this year, Cedillo successfully introduced similar legislation four times since 2005, and each time Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.  A fifth  died in the Senate.  This time around Cedillo has an ally in governor’s office.  During his campaign, Gov. Brown pledged his support for the Dream Act.