It came down almost to the wire, but California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that will allow undocumented college students in the state to obtain the same kind of publicly-funded financial aid for tuition now available to U.S. citizens and legal residents.
Late this morning, Brown signed a bill known as AB 131, the second of two bills referred to as the California Dream Act. The signing deadline was tomorrow. The Sacramento Bee published part of a statement from Brown:
"Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking. The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us," Brown said in a prepared statement.
Both AB 131 and its companion bill, AB 130, were sponsored by Assembly member Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, who has successfully shepherded similar measures through the legislature in the past, all met with vetoes. While Brown had expressed support for both measures, the time it took for him to sign AB 131, approved by state lawmakers at the end of August, had both supporters and opponents of the bill wondering if he'd decline to sign it.
Part of what made the bill so contentious is that unlike AB 130, which only entitles undocumented students to privately funded grants and scholarships, AB 130 requires the use of state funds. Cedillo's office has estimated that implementing AB 131 could cost anywhere between $22 million and $42 million, although roughly $13 million of that would come from money that is already set aside for low-income students whose grades qualify them for CalGrants.
As controversial as AB 131 has been, it is not the first state measure allowing undocumented students access to publicly funded tuition aid. According to Cedillo's spokesman Conrado Terrazas, New Mexico and Texas similarly allow public financial aid for undocumented students, and Illinois has legislation allowing them access to privately-funded tuition aid. Several states - including California - allow undocumented college students who meet state residency requirements to pay less costly in-state tuition rates.
A post earlier this week on whether Brown would sign AB 131 generated more than 70 comments on the Multi-American site, with readers getting into heated debates over the bill. "VETO!" one reader posted last night.
Half an hour ago, a reader identified as Soixantte posted: "Guess what haters? He signed it."
A recent version of the bill can be downloaded here.