How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

California Dream Act passes its first Senate test

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Financial aid for undocumented college students paying tuition has inched a bit closer to becoming law in California, with part of the legislation dubbed the "California Dream Act" passing its first Senate test.

The bill, approved 7-3 today in the Senate Education Committee, would allow for undocumented students who meet the residency criteria for California in-state tuition to obtain scholarships that are not derived from state funds. Similar legislation was recently approved in Illinois.

Today's hearing follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday that upheld an existing California law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, rather than the costlier out-of-state fees they must pay in some other states.

The California Dream Act is comprised of two related bills, both sponsored by Democratic Assembly member Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles. Both recently cleared the Assembly and are moving through the Senate approval process. The one approved today, still referred to as AB 130, is the less contested of the two; the second bill, known as AB 131, would amend state law to allow undocumented students access to publicly-funded financial aid, including Cal Grants state grants and other financial assistance.

An excerpt from a synopsis of AB 130:

This bill would provide that, on and after January 1, 2012, a student attending the California State University, the California Community Colleges, or the University of California who is exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the provision described above would be eligible to receive a scholarship derived from nonstate funds received, for the purpose of scholarships, by the segment at which he or she is a student.

And from one of AB 131:
This bill would amend the Donahoe Higher Education Act, as of July 1, 2012, to require the Trustees of the California State University and the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, and to request the regents, to establish procedures and forms that enable persons who are exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the above-described provision, or who meet equivalent requirements adopted by the regents, to apply for, and participate in, all student aid programs administered by these segments to the full extent permitted by federal law, except as provided. This provision would apply to the University of California only if the regents, by appropriate resolution, act to make it applicable.

This bill would provide that persons who are exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the above provision, or who meet equivalent requirements adopted by the regents, are eligible to apply for, and participate in, any student financial aid program administered by the State of California to the full extent permitted by federal law.

Unlike the similarly named proposed federal legislation, neither bill proposes granting legal status to undocumented college students.

The bill heard today heads to another Senate committee within the next two weeks, a representative from Cedillo's office said today. A hearing has yet to be scheduled for the public financial aid bill.

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