The Hatters' Herald

Danbury lawmaker says he’s closer to supporting HB 5031

Bill would give undocumented college students access to institutional financial aid

State+Rep.+Michael+Ferguson%2C+a+DHS+graduate%2C+listens+as+junior+Denise+Rodas+tells+of+her+dream+to+go+to+college+in+a+forum+Friday+in+the+Library+Learning+Commons.
State Rep. Michael Ferguson, a DHS graduate, listens as junior Denise Rodas tells of her dream to go to college in a forum Friday in the Library Learning Commons.

State Rep. Michael Ferguson, a DHS graduate, listens as junior Denise Rodas tells of her dream to go to college in a forum Friday in the Library Learning Commons.

Staff photo

Staff photo

State Rep. Michael Ferguson, a DHS graduate, listens as junior Denise Rodas tells of her dream to go to college in a forum Friday in the Library Learning Commons.

Staff Report

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Although he didn’t commit 100 percent to support the bill, state Rep. Michael Ferguson told a group of students, activists and teachers in a meeting Friday at DHS that “I think you kind of got me.”

The group applauded Ferguson, R-138th and a DHS graduate, for signaling that he may be ready to support House Bill 5031, which would give undocumented college students access to institutional financial aid, a pool of money that they pay into with their tuition.

The meeting drew a crowd of about 25 on the same day school let out for Spring Break. They met in the Library Learning Commons.

My mom said, ‘I don’t care if I have to work two, three, four jobs. You are going to have an education, you are going to go to college,’”

— Denise Rodas, junior

Also in attendance was state Rep. David Arconti, D-109th, and a DHS graduate. He has supported the bill since he took office and has been lobbying colleagues, but House leadership has never OK’d the bill for a floor vote. That’s one of the reasons Ferguson said he had not weighed in on the bill.

The other reason, he said, is that this kind of bill is tempting for lawmakers to tag on costly amendments. “It’s important that this bill not change and no additional amendments are added,” said Ferguson, who noted the state is in financial crisis but that he’s willing to “continue to listen to the conversation.”

Part of the conversation on this day was hearing from Denise Rodas, a 16-year-old junior at DHS who has dreams of attending college to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. She was sitting next to Ferguson as she wept while recounting a conversation she had with her mother, who is already working two jobs while her father works from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“My mom said, ‘I don’t care if I have to work two, three, four jobs. You are going to have an education, you are going to go to college,’ ” she said to Ferguson, who was visibly touched by the account. “I just want you to represent all students who want to go to college, who want to be successful and who want to have a purpose in life.”

Ferguson thanked Rodas for sharing her story. “I think some of the other members [of the House] need to hear this,” he said.

The event was sponsored by CT Students for a Dream and was hosted by Angelica Idrovo, a youth organizer in Danbury who works to protect, and push for, the rights of undocumented students and immigrant families.

She noted that the bill was approved out of committee by a vote of 17-3, the best showing yet. Now it sits, waiting for a floor vote. But until it’s sure to have the votes to pass, it won’t be introduced.

“I’m talking with my colleagues who aren’t supportive of this bill, trying to get them to change their vote from red to green (a red light means “no” and a green light signals “yes”),” Arconti said. “ I’m a little more hopeful this year than last year. We should know in the next couple of weeks whether we can get it out of our chamber and into the Senate.”

Undocumented students are not eligible for institutional financial aid because the application requires a Social Security number, which they don’t have. Some states, it was noted in the meeting, such as Texas have created new forms that make providing that form of identification optional.

Barbara Bogart, a DHS science teacher, lobbied Ferguson to support the bill because she’s tired of seeing “beautiful minds shut down” when they learn they cannot have access to this aid, thereby putting college financially out of reach.

“If it’s just a matter of changing the form, I don’t understand why we’re not going forward with this,” she said.

Although it wasn’t said at the meeting, one of the reasons the bill has so much opposition is that many lawmakers believe that these institutional financial aid pools should be available to only U.S. citizens. Opening the pool to undocumented students — even though they are paying into the pool with a percentage of their tuition, just like any student — would mean less money for students who hold citizenship status.

“Our students are not asking for a handout,” said Soraya Bilbao, an ESL teacher who is a constant champion of her students. “They are putting in the work. Give them the opportunity. They want to contribute to our society.”

She continued, holding back tears: “They are working after school all hours to help their families. They are working because they have to, not because they want to go to the mall or go to the movies. Give them the opportunity.”

Staff photo
Youth organizer Angelica Idrovo hosts a forum Friday to discuss CT Students for a Dream. Next to her is Reps. David Arconti and Michael Ferguson, and DHS junior Denise Rodas.

 

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Danbury High School     43 Clapboard Ridge Road Danbury, CT 06811     (203) 797-4800
Danbury lawmaker says he’s closer to supporting HB 5031