HARTFORD, CT — With less than three weeks to go until the end of the General Assembly session, proponents of two bills that would give undocumented immigrant students access to financial aid at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities are putting on the full court press for passage.
Earlier during the session, the Higher Education Committee and Employment Advancement Committee forwarded both bills to their respective chambers. But neither the House or Senate has taken it up yet.
The Senate doesn’t want to raise the bill if it’s not going to pass in the House.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, admitted Thursday that he doesn’t have the votes.
“It has support,” Aresimowicz said, but he added, “It’s a few votes short.”
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the Senate may take up the legislation first.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus, said he did not know if or when the Senate would take up the legislation.
This the fourth year in a row that the “Dreamers” are trying to get a bill that would give them access to financial aid at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities. Last year, they were able to get the Senate to approve a similar measure, but the House never voted on it.
Proponents call it an issue of fairness and an “injustice” that undocumented immigrant students pay into a fund that other students can draw from to pay for their education, but they can’t.
At a press conference Wednesday, Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, said an argument he hasn’t made before — a shrinking college population — is a reason to get behind the legislation.
“With projected declines in the college-age population for the foreseeable future, institutions of higher education in Connecticut are competing for an ever shrinking group of students,” Ojakian said. “Without the ability to offer institutional aid to undocumented students, our public institutions will be at a competitive disadvantage to our private counterparts, and will contribute to further enrollment declines.”
Ojakian added: “It is always financially and operationally more sustainable for our institutions to have a seat filled than to have that seat remain empty and lose all the potential tuition and fee revenues from that student.”
Ojakian said other states allow undocumented students to receive funds, including California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington.
Camila Bortolleto, campaign manager for Connecticut Students for a Dream, said: “At a time when enrollment in Connecticut’s colleges is declining and when our state faces budget deficits, passing this law is a common sense solution, that will increase enrollment and tuition revenue, and is an investment in Connecticut’s economy — that comes at zero fiscal cost to the state.”
“Immigrant students who graduate college will contribute back paying more in taxes in their lifetime,” Bortolleto said. “Undocumented individuals in Connecticut currently pay $397 million in state and federal taxes. Every year, our community colleges and state universities are forced to cancel classes because not enough students enroll. Institutional financial aid would allow more students to enroll, increasing tuition revenue for our schools and benefiting the Connecticut economy in the long run.”
The Office of Fiscal Analysis has reported these measures will have no fiscal impact on state or on the higher education system.
“This is just good public policy,” Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, said at the press conference. “If you pay into the system, you should be able to draw from the system.”
The proposal has the support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who submitted written testimony in support of the legislation during the public hearing phase.
“Education and career preparation are some of the best tools we have to combat poverty,” Malloy and Wyman said in a joint statement. “And, access to affordable higher education is one path into the middle class for millions across our country.”
Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, the Republican co-chair of the High Education committee, voted against the bill when it passed this year. On Thursday, Linares said he had “nothing new” on the bill.
Linares, the only Cuban American state Senator, has stated previously that while he appreciates the open dialogue he’s been able to have with the students, his view is that “we are a country of laws and those who are waiting for legal status should go through the process first.”
If they have a problem with obtaining U.S. citizenship then they can petition the federal government, Linares has said.
He has expressed concern that the legislation puts Connecticut in a position where it “runs the risk of losing federal funding.”