Bill would make more students eligible for Dream Act -- Gazette.Net







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A bill to change the newly approved Maryland Dream Act is being considered in Annapolis.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville, is meant to correct what Kaiser is calling an unintended consequence of the Maryland Dream Act. It would make illegal immigrants who are enrolled in high school and dually enrolled in college eligible for in-county college tuition rates.

The Dream Act, which took effect Jan. 1, allows students who are not citizens to pay in-state tuition rates for Maryland universities. But, first, they must graduate from Maryland public high schools and their families must have filed income tax returns in Maryland for three years.

That means students who have not yet graduated but are taking college courses are not eligible.

The House Ways and Means Committee heard Kaiser’s bill on Tuesday. No one other than Kaiser spoke about the bill during the hearing.

The committee also heard a tuition-related bill sponsored by Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Dist. 18) of Chevy Chase. She said the bill addresses the loophole without touching the scope of the Dream Act.

Under her bill, current high school students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals and who are dually enrolled in college would have their tuition rates waived.

“There are several ways that this can be fixed,” Gutierrez said. “This is the easiest and best way.”

Before the Dream Act, some community colleges did not require documentation for current high school students. Now, students are asked for proof of citizenship.

Opponents claim Kaiser’s bill would extend the scope of an already controversial law.

Advocates for the law sold the bill on the basis that the benefit of subsidized tuition would apply only to those who met requirements, such as the graduation requirement, Del. Steven Schuh (R-Dist. 31) of Gibson Island said in January.

The Maryland Association of Community Colleges supports Kaiser’s bill, stating that it would allow for greater access to higher education.

Bernard Sadusky, executive director of the association, wrote in testimony for that bill that “we must ensure that every Maryland high school student can participate in dual enrollment programs.”

Local community colleges would collect an average of $508 less per three-credit course for each dually enrolled student, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The bill affects fewer students than Gutierrez’s, although the total impact is not known.

Under Gutierrez’s bill, local community colleges would collect about $377 less on average for each three-credit course for eligible dually enrolled students beginning in fiscal year 2014, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The Maryland Association of Community Colleges opposes the bill for that reason.

Of the 4,878 students dually enrolled in community colleges in the state, 37.7 percent qualify for free or reduced price meals, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Sadusky stated in testimony that the bill would “counter the state’s goal of affordability.”

When community colleges waive costs, the burden is shifted directly onto other students with increased tuition costs, Sadusky wrote.

Gutierrez said the money could come from a part-time student grant fund that is available for these purposes.

The change due to the Dream Act is burdensome for schools, which are now dealing with more paperwork, and affects the students, many of whom cannot afford the full tuition cost, Kaiser said.

The Montgomery County Board of Education and Montgomery County government support Kaiser’s bill.

In Montgomery County, nearly 80 high school students who were taking courses at Montgomery College had to provide documentation for the first time this semester due to the Dream Act.

If the students could not provide updated information about their citizenship and visa status, their tuition increased from the in-county rate of $112 per credit hour to the out-of-state rate of $314 per credit hour, not including fees.

Montgomery County Board of education member Rebecca Smondrowski said in January that although the issue affects a small student population, it is important to address.