Sosnowski sees lesson in failed Student Access Bill
The recently failed Student Access Bill, which would have broadened financial aid available to students regardless of documentation status, was defeated because it was money the state doesn't have to spend, according to Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford).
"Our state universities have already been forced to do more with less during the two-year-long state budget impasse from which they are still recovering,"Sosnowski told the Rockford Sun. "A majority of Illinois House members recognize that wherever you stand on the issue of federal immigration reform, we should not extend taxpayer-funded benefits to those who have not yet attained legal citizenship."
Sosnowski argued that the priority needs to be on reversing the out-migration of Illinois’ best and brightest students who have been leaving en masse to attend colleges and universities elsewhere.
"Once we lose them, it’s not likely that many of them ever come back," he said. "This has a long-term negative impact on Illinois’ economy and separates thousands of parents from their adult children who, after college, are likely to start their careers and a family of their own in whichever state they left Illinois for."
Introduced in the House by Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) in February, House Bill 2394 would have granted access to scholarships, grants and other assistance at in-state universities to all students, regardless of background or immigration status. Undocumented students, including illegal immigrants and their children, are not eligible to receive federal student aid, Pell grants, Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and other state-based financial aid.
While HB2394 would have permitted four-year universities to offer a broader range of financial aid than what is currently available, it would not have made unauthorized immigrants eligible for MAP grants, which historically have helped the state's neediest students pay for tuition and fees.
The bill had support from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Illinois Women March on Springfield.
The bill failed on a third reading on Nov. 8, falling 40 to 57.
"I joined legislators from both sides of the aisle in voting against HB2394," Sosnowski said. "The fact that the bill fell 20 votes short of a majority demonstrates that this is not a partisan issue: This is a matter of whether the State of Illinois should extend the same taxpayer-funded benefits to non-citizens as we provide to students who are U.S. citizens.
"In our estimation, the state should prioritize our currently limited resources to support higher education on helping as many students as possible who are citizens pursue their academic goals at our state universities."
In fact, the Student Access Bill went beyond allowable scope, Sosnowski contended.
"This is really a federal issue," he said. "I am glad Congress is having discussions about comprehensive immigration reform, including how to address students covered under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. As I said, these are federal issues that Congress must decide upon.
"I’m focused on our own challenges here at the state level, working with Democrats and Republicans to provide greater access to educational opportunities for students of all ages."
Sosnowski referred to more successful legislation he sponsored, House Bill 2527, which allows adult learners the opportunity to earn a high school diploma. That bill passed with bipartisan support and was recently signed into law.
"Here in Winnebago and Boone counties alone, there are more than 35,000 adults without a high school diploma," Sosnowski said. "That is a tragedy. Now, thanks to our law, these students will be able to attain their education and climb the ladder of success in their career goals. We partnered with Goodwill Industries, which administers Excel Centers for these adult learners, in a program that has proven to be enormously successful in Indiana, and which has since expanded to Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, DC.
"Our new law paves the way for the creation of an Excel Center here in Rockford, which will benefit every student regardless of race, national origin, or socio-economic status."