Expanding Opportunities for CA Students

By EGP Staff Report

California lawmakers are considering two different proposals to increase educational opportunities for California students from the youngest to the oldest.

One bill, the Kindergarten Readiness Act, would make voluntary transitional kindergarten available to every four-year-old by offering free preschool to those whose families can’t afford it.

“Transitional kindergarten” is currently only available to children who turned 5 between Oct. 2 and Dec. 2 — the old age eligibility cutoff date to enroll in kindergarten. Now, only children who turn 5 by Sept. 2 can enroll in kindergarten.

The change, which would be phased in over five years, is intended to make preschool available to as many as 350,000 children from low-income and immigrant families when fully implemented.

Advocates say expanding access will have long-term benefits, including fewer students falling academically and socially behind their middle-class and wealthier peers. Less money would be needed for special-education classes; students repeating grades or failing in school and ending up in prison, say supporters of SB 837, authored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat. Passing the billing is the Democrats’ top priority this year, Steinberg said

The other bill expands college financial aid to undocumented immigrants.

The California Dream Loan program has the support of UC President Janet Napolitano.

“The University of California is a huge engine of social mobility,” she says. “And you hear story after story of students whose lives were changed and their families’ lives were changed because they had the ability to go to the university.”

Supporters of SB 1210, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, say the loans will help undocumented students close the $3,000 to $6,000 financial aid gap, which could eliminate the need for a student to take multiple jobs or drop out of college.

If approved, loans would be available to undocumented students attending the University of California or California State University who are not eligible for federal or private student loans, the primary source of the funding gap.

Under Lara’s bill, the state would allocate funds to a loan pool at each campus, to be administered by the school and eventually replenished through loan repayments. State legislative analysts estimate the cost to be $6.9 million the first year. The UC and CSU estimate as many as 2,100 undocumented students could borrow just over $9 million the in the first year alone. The senator has called on the two college systems to match state contributions.

“We invest in California students from an early age and many of them have done what we’ve asked them to do: work hard, study and pursue a higher education,” said Lara. “If we’re serious about strengthening our economy then we must remove obstacles for our future workforce when they’re close to the graduation finish line,” he said in a statement.

Napolitano says the bill is about opportunity and fairness.

“We should work as hard as we can to ensure that they have every chance to succeed,” she says.

The state already has extended in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and made them eligible to apply for Cal Grants.

Lara said, “Continuing to invest in our future and ensuring that all students have access to the funding resources they need to succeed should be a top priority.”

Information from the California News Service was used in this report.

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April 17, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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