Support For Undocumented Student Aid Costs California Community Colleges Board President Her Seat - Higher Education

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Support For Undocumented Student Aid Costs California Community Colleges Board President Her Seat

by David Pluviose

This week in the majority-Democrat California State Senate, GOP senators succeeded in blocking the confirmation of Community Colleges Board of Governors President Katherine Albiani. The Senate voted along party lines to reject Albiani, the third of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointees to the board voted down in the past year by united GOP opposition to the board’s decision to back the Dream Act, which would grant financial aid to undocumented students.

While awaiting Senate confirmation, board members can serve for one year after being nominated by the governor. John W. Koeberer had to leave the board in June after his nomination languished in the Senate for a year. Rose Del Castillo Guilbault had to leave the board in October under the same circumstances.

All three paid the political price for their support of the latest version of the California Dream Act, vetoed by Schwarzenegger last year. That version would have allowed undocumented students to be eligible for certain types of state-funded financial aid. In his veto statement, Schwarzenegger pointed out that undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition under the provisions of the original Dream Act, and providing more aid would exacerbate a state budget deficit, which now hovers around $14.5 billion.

GOP opposition to Albiani’s confirmation exposed a rift between Schwarzenegger and his own party over his cozy relationship with many Democratic legislators, with whom he has crafted a universal health care plan among other pieces of major legislation.

“Governor Schwarzenegger stands behind his appointment of Katherine, and he thanks her for her service,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Cameron. “It is unfortunate the Senate did not confirm her appointment, and the governor thanks those members that voted for confirmation.”

Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman said he and his colleagues voted against Albiani solely to protest the Community College Board of Governor’s support for what he called “illegals” at the expense of “law-abiding citizens.” In light of the looming $14.5 billion budget deficit, Ackerman said he and his colleagues will continue to look for ways to curtail the “benefit package” California provides to undocumented residents, which includes in-state tuition.

Supporters of Albiani decry the partisan politics that derailed her confirmation, citing her broad educational administrative experience. Community College League of California President Scott Lay was in the Senate chamber during the vote and called GOP senators’ denial of Albiani’s confirmation “one of the most disgusting” displays of legislative partisanship that “I’ve seen in my 13 years advocating for community colleges.”

Lay says Albiani was eminently qualified for the post, having served as the president of the California Community Colleges Trustees Association and the California School Boards Association. Beyond that, Lay says Albiani was a teacher at the K-12 level and has a middle school named after her. “You just don’t find somebody who transcends partisan politics and rises as a leader as often as Kay has, and I’m just speechless by the politics that has caused her to step down from the board.”

Republican State Sen. George Runner summed up GOP opposition to the latest version of the Dream Act after it was passed by the state Legislature in 2006.

“Financial aid is not overabundant yet this measure would force California citizens to compete with illegal immigrants for financial aid to attend college,” Runner said. “Taxpayers should expect to pay millions of dollars more annually, growing over time into the low tens of millions as the number of eligible illegal immigrants increase and the maximum Cal Grant award rises,” he added.

Runner continued, “If you wonder why the Legislature cannot balance its budget, look at its priorities. We cannot allow tax dollars to be spent in such a destructive manner. The state should be focused on enforcing our laws, not rewarding people who continue to violate our laws and live here illegally.”

Yet, according to Lay, using the Community College Board of Governor’s support for financial aid for undocumented students as a reason to block Albiani’s confirmation unfairly deprives the board of a qualified leader.

“There’s not been an appointee with more qualifications to serve community colleges at the statewide level than Kay Albiani, and the fact that this litmus test is being applied to a board that unanimously voted for a position on legislation is just beyond belief,” Lay says. He points out that many other segments of higher education leadership support granting financial aid to undocumented students, including the University of California Regents, The California State University Board of Trustees and “virtually every higher education organization including our national association.”

For GOP senators opposed to illegal immigration, Lay says the Community College Board of Governors is an easier target than the UC Regents board, as its chairman is Richard Blum, who is married to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“They’re not going to go after Dianne Feinstein’s husband, who supported the Dream Act. Community colleges are not big campaign donors,” and since they are politically weaker, Lay says GOP senators have used their votes against Community College Board of Governors members to “make a statement.”

–David Pluviose

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