One of two measures that make up what's referred to as the California Dream Act was released from suspense in a state Senate committee today, and is expected to go to the Senate floor next week for a vote. But unlike AB 130, a companion bill that was recently signed into law, the bill known as AB 131 faces slimmer odds of success.
Both measures aim to make it easier for undocumented college students to pay tuition. AB 130 allowed these students access to previously unavailable privately funded scholarships. AB 131 would grant them access to publicly funded financial aid, the same kind of financial aid now available to students who are U.S. citizens and legal residents. Although undocumented students can qualify for in-state tuition if they meet state residency requirements, they are still barred from public financial aid programs, such as Cal Grants.
The opposition to the second bill is stiff, and it doesn't necessarily fall along partisan lines. It partly involves money: In spite of amendments made to the bill, implementing AB 131 could cost anywhere between $22 million and $42 million, according to Luis Dario Quiñones, a legislative aide for Assembly member Gil Cedillo, who sponsored the bill. The blow is softened somewhat in that about $13 million of that would come from money set aside each year for low-income students whose grades qualify them for Cal Grants, Quiñones said, and the state's finance department may conclude that an additional $10 million is already covered as well.
Still, in the current state budget climate, any expenditure is being closely scrutinized. GOP opponents of the bill have said they don't wish to spend state funds on educating undocumented students, especially since many of these students are later hard pressed to fully utilize their degrees because they lack legal status, and thus good job prospects. Unlike the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, neither of the California bills proposes a path to legal status.
Less expected, if not surprising, is opposition from people who describe themselves as generally leaning left, but who are worried about making the state's already overburdened colleges and universities more competitive, as well as the financial aid options that exist for students.
The bill would apply to only to undocumented students who are eligible for in-state tuition under California law, at the moment about 30,000 students altogether, according to Cedillo's office. The bill is expected to return the the Assembly after the Senate vote because of amendments made to make it less costly, including delaying its start date by six months if it becomes law.
If AB 131 does clear the state legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown's office has indicated there is a good chance he could sign it.
"The Governor continues to broadly support the principles behind the Dream Act and will closely consider any legislation that reaches his desk," Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford wrote in an email today.