California Lawmakers Propose Financial Aid for Undocumented Students

Posted By Liz Seasholtz on March 11, 2015 at 3:00 pm
California Lawmakers Propose Financial Aid for Undocumented Students

A bill introduced in the California legislature on January 29, 2015, AB 206 is designed to provide a work-study program to help undocumented students already eligible for financial aid under AB 540. The bill will go before a committee in March. If passed, it will take effect at the start of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Jose Medina, D-Riverside, Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, co-introduced the bill with assembly member Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay. AB 206 is co-authored by assembly members Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara). The primary goal of the bill is to lessen the burden of student debt, as well as help undocumented students gain job skills that will increase prospects for employment after graduation.

Progressive California paves the way

California is one of 12 states to currently offer state-funded financial aid to undocumented students. Since 2001, legislation AB 540 has allowed undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at UC and CSU schools. AB 130, which went into effect January 1, 2012, gave those students access to privately funded scholarships. And, effective January 1, 2013, AB 131 made it possible for the same students to apply for and receive institutional grants, such as the State University Grant and the University of California Grants. However, undocumented students have traditionally been denied access to the Federal Work-Study program.

California’s work-study program

AB 206 would make need-based work-study grants available to undocumented students who are already eligible for in-state tuition at UC, CSU, and California community colleges. California’s Student Aid Commission would cover 100% of the cost of work-study grants for students employed by UC, CSU, or a public school district, and 50% of the cost for jobs with other private and non-profit employers.

The measure would provide students with an average grant of $2,000 per school year, a sum equal to that currently received by UC and CSU students participating in the federal work-study program.

UC Berkeley goes the extra mile

In December 2012, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund donated the single largest gift of financial aid for undocumented students, in the form of a $1 million scholarship program to UC Berkeley’s Director’s Work Study Program. The gift was an early result of AB 130, which made private resources available to undocumented students. Since the Haas donation, other private donors have also stepped forward to chip in – the UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program now lists a dozen other scholarships for undocumented students.

California dreaming?

Critics of AB 206 have primarily focused on the financial impact, arguing that California simply doesn’t have the funds. In his January 2015 State of the State address, California Governor Jerry Brown acknowledged looming budget constraints, saying:

“Already, the commitments that the state made in the past two years are straining the state’s finances. Under a projection of current policies, the state would begin to spend more than it receives in annual revenues by 2018-19 (by about $1 billion).”

In January, Governor Brown disappointed the UC system by offering a $120 million grant in response to a requested $220 million in additional funding.

In a January 15th, 2015, editorial Autumn Carver, Executive Director of California Common Sense wrote:

“Economic cycles dictate that revenues cannot rise forever. As obvious as that may seem, California state legislators have nonetheless made a habit of making new unsecured commitments that will grow indefinitely, while sidelining existing ones. For the security of current generations and future ones, I can think of little else more reckless.”

Other critics take an entirely different issue with the AB 206 proposal, arguing that the state should focus on giving aid to legal residents. And when AB 206 goes up for consideration in March, the only thing that’s certain is that there will be passionate debate from both sides.


Image: Wikipedia user Falcorian

Liz Seasholtz

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