By Brant Ozanich
California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act into law July 25 after it passed both houses of the state legislature, allowing undocumented students to receive funding from private scholarships.
The bill, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012, differs from the national DREAM Act, which is a path to citizenship for undocumented graduates and veterans.
“I’m committed to expanding opportunity wherever I can find it, and certainly these kinds of bills promote a goal of a more inclusive California and a more educated California,” Brown said on Monday after signing the bill.
In addition to allowing eligible students to receive private scholarships, the bill – titled AB 130 – also allows the same qualified students to receive fee waivers from California’s Community Colleges if they meet existing financial requirements.
The bill, which has been celebrated as a win for the Latino community and a campaign promise for Brown, may actually be more of an ideological win than a pragmatic one.
“It’s seen as a civil rights issue in the Latino community, especially for youth. The farm workers’ struggle is not necessarily seen as what it once was. This is an issue of the now, an issue of the moment, part of the Latino agenda and part of the future,” said Jaime Regalado, Director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs.
A more controversial bill, AB 131, that allows the same students to receive public state funding and financial aid is waiting for approval in the state senate.
Who will it effect?
While the media reaction to the bill made it seem that all undocumented students in California could receive access to private scholarships, closer inspection shows that this is not entirely the case.
Under the new legislation, only students who are paying in-state tuition under AB 540 will be eligible for the funding. AB 540, passed in 2002, is a law that allows illegal or undocumented students who graduated high school after attending at least three years in the state to pay in-state tuition at colleges.
“A student … who is exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the provision described above would be eligible to receive a scholarship derived from non-state funds received, for the purpose of scholarships, by the segment at which he or she is a student,” the bill reads, meaning that any student eligible under AB 540 to pay resident tuition can also receive private, state approved funding and scholarships.
The CSU system has about 3,600 students enrolled under AB 540, according to the CSU chancellor’s office. This group, which makes up less than one percent of the CSU 412,000 strong student body, will now have access to the roughly $25.7 million in private scholarships given out per year to CSU students.
UC officials estimate their system has only 642 students out of 235,000, or one fifth of a percent, under AB 540.
California Community Colleges, by far the largest of the three systems, has a whole 34,000 students enrolled under AB 540, making up one and a quarter percent of the 2.7 million student body.
As a whole, the three systems have 38,242 students eligible under the new California Dream Act, meaning that slightly over one percent of the total 3.3 million students will be affected.
For now, undocumented students who are not eligible can still find scholarships that do not require social security numbers or resident status.
Additional reporting compiled from Reuters, The San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times.