By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House on Thursday passed a bill offering state-funded student financial aid to two groups who don’t qualify for federal aid, undocumented immigrants and transgender individuals who have not registered for the draft.
“This bill creates equity,” said Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, a Cicero Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill. “The state has already invested in these students through their education. They are residents of Illinois. Universities across the state and community colleges are supportive of this bill. This is a solution that is in the best interests of the state of Illinois and the communities we all represent.”
Federal student financial aid is available only to United States citizens. In addition, male students who are 18 or older must have complied with federal requirements to register for military selective service, something that many transgender women do not do.
Hernandez said passage of the bill, House Bill 2691, would provide access to the state’s Monetary Award Program, or MAP grants, to an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 potential students who don’t currently qualify for student financial aid.
The bill would also remove all caps on how many credit hours a student can fund using MAP grants. Currently, students are limited to 135 credit hours, but Hernandez said that disproportionately affects students of color who come from underfunded school districts and who often need to take remedial courses before they take standard freshman-level classes, and therefore need more time to complete a degree program.
Illinois is one of 16 states that offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, if they meet all other residency and admission requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
NCSL also notes that at least nine states – California, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington – offer student financial aid to certain undocumented immigrants while others, such as Utah, allow public institutions to offer them financial aid using private funding sources.
In some states, those laws have been the subject of bitter controversy amid the fierce national debate over U.S. immigration policy. But in the Illinois House, opponents of the bill did not talk about immigration issues and instead focused their arguments on the potential cost.
Rep. Allen Skillicorn, a Republican from East Dundee, pointed to a fiscal note for the bill that said if all of the students who become eligible under the bill were to use those benefits, it could add about $9 million to the cost of the MAP grants. That means lawmakers would either have to appropriate more money for the program, or administrators of the program would have to shift grant funds away from other recipients.
Hernandez, though, said the bill is intended only to expand eligibility to the state financial aid program to more needy students, and that the bill itself carries no additional costs for the state.
The bill passed, by a vote of 66-47.