In-state tuition, aid offered undocumented immigrants [CT Post]

May 21, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

HARTFORD — In separate actions on Tuesday, the House and Senate voted to allow more undocumented immigrants to apply for in-state college tuition and seek financial aid.

Under a House bill, expanding on the 2011 law to let those pursuing legal status under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to pay in-state tuition rates, the requirement for Connecticut high school attendance would be reduced from four years to two.

That bill, approved in a 78-70 House vote following a seven-hour debate amid Republican opposition, next heads to the Senate. Eight Democrats opposed the legislation.

“Are we going to continue the divide between the haves and have-nots?” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, summing up the debate around 8 p.m.

Rep. Roland J. Lemar, D-New Haven, who brought the bill to the House floor, said the four-year period was cut in half, to bring Connecticut in line with other states, including New York.

“Nineteen states offer in-state tuition and only one other state requires four-year residency,” Lemar said, adding the students would pay full tuition of about $22,000 a year. Out-of-state students pay about $35,000. “We thought we could expand the opportunity to our students.”

The legislation would require students without legal-immigration status who meet the requirements to file affidavits with the institute of higher education — the University of Connecticut, a Connecticut State University, a community or technical college, or Charter Oak State College — indicating they have applied to legalize their status.

Republicans warned that allowing undocumented immigrants in-state tuition would take away coveted college acceptances from life-long state residents.

“This bill will cost students and their parents money,” said Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton. “Either the number of students accepted for matriculation goes down or the tuition rate goes up.”

Meanwhile the Senate, in a 24-12 vote, approved legislation that would allow that same pool of students to apply for financial aid, including waivers, grants, student employment and other scholarship programs that amount to 18 percent of UConn’s student income and 15 percent of state universities and community colleges.

“When you’re in competition, someone has to lose,” said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, ranking member of the Education Committee, whose parents came from Italy. “So the question is what’s fair in this circumstance? I’d love to see us fund public education from pre-K through community college. This is a matter of fairness and justice and those limited funds are prioritized.”

Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said there are about 4,000 DACA-eligible residents in the state, 3,000 of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24. There are about 12,000 other undocumented residents.

Bartolomeo said the scholarship pools depend on student course loads and vary among the 17 different state institutions and UConn.

“What we’re doing is hurting Connecticut residents in the process. I think we’re hurting Connecticut families. The economy is struggling. Now we’re going to take money away from them in the form of financial aid.”

“We’re going to see increased competition because we’ll have a new pool of entrants,” said Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, whose district includes Oxford and part of Seymour.

But Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, favored the legislation, noting that undocumented immigrants are here to stay. “What are we going to do as a nation?” he asked. “What are we going to do as a state? Are we going to leave you behind. What this says is we’re going to give you that chance. Why not let that happen. We’ll be a more productive state for it. In light of where we are and how we got here, we are here.”