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Patrick Backs Tuition Break for Children of Illegals

June 26, 2008

By Matt Murphy, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

Jun. 26–BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick’s education-reform plan would offer children of illegal immigrants living in Massachusetts lower in-state college tuition rates, a politically sensitive topic around the country.

“It makes good sense for us economically and, for me, it’s about simple justice,” Patrick said yesterday. “We don’t tell these kids they can’t go. We just tell them that they’ll have to pay more than the kids that have been sitting across from them in school all these years.”

Students would have to complete high school, pass the MCAS exam and be on a path to citizenship to qualify for the in-state tuition rate.

Patrick released his final recommendations in his expansive “Readiness Project” yesterday. Other proposals include free access to community colleges and making community-college credits easily transferable between all state schools. It marks the first attempt at revamping public education since the Education Reform Act of 1993, which ushered in the MCAS exam and benchmark funding for public schools.

In January 2006, the Massachusetts House voted 57-96 to defeat a bill to allow the tuition breaks.

Supporters say many of the children have lived in the country for years and were brought here by their parents. They also point out that at least 10 others states offer some illegal-immigrant students in-state tuition rates.

Critics say it rewards those who entered the country illegally.

“It’s been defeated before,” said House Republican leader Brad Jones of North Reading. “It’s the wrong direction. It’s the wrong policy. By law you can’t offer these people legal jobs.”

Jones also criticized Patrick for not detailing how much the reform initiative will cost.

Patrick expects this latest effort, which includes 55 proposals to remake the education system, to take the better part of the next decade to implement as the state grapples with choosing which reforms to adopt and how to pay for many of the costly initiatives.

“We’re very enthused that there is a renewed focus on education and that it’s getting the attention it needs,” said Linda Noonan, managing director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. “What jumps out at us is the overall acknowledgment that the system as a whole needs to be restructured.”

Noonan said the alliance is particularly intrigued by certain goals that call for addressing teacher compensation such as the statewide contract proposal and increased pay for teachers in at-risk schools. Only time will tell, however, what comes of these proposals.

“There are too few details to be anything but optimistic at this point,” Noonan said. “I don’t think anyone can argue with the goals.”

The Readiness Project did not come with a price tag. A separate Readiness Finance Commission will study the costs of each proposal and possible funding sources. That report is due in November.

The governor has indicated casino gambling might be one way to pay for some of the reforms, but would not commit to refiling his defeated bill that called for three resort-style casinos in Massachusetts.

“Everything is on the table,” Patrick told reporters yesterday, “everything except property taxes.”

Both the governor and incoming Education Secretary Paul Reville dismissed criticism that the administration has called for sweeping reform without providing a way to pay for it, arguing that it was a choice to first identify everything needed for students to succeed before trying to decide what the state could afford.

“The largest enemy of school reform is complacence,” Reville said.

Over the past three days, Patrick has rolled out a laundry list of reforms he will try to tackle in the months ahead, some likely easy to achieve while others will undoubtedly prove to be politically difficult.

Among the proposals:

–Universal pre-kindergarten.

–Longer school days and year.

–Combining school districts with fewer than 4,000 students.

–A statewide teacher’s contract with higher pay for those who teach in cities and high-needs districts.

–Competitive salaries for college-level instructors.

–Early high-school graduation for students who pass an international exam.

Patrick is also looking to reduce class sizes, cut the drop-out rate to less than 10 percent and boost graduation rates in inner cities, put counselors in schools to help children cope with outside stresses that impact learning, and reduce the achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

His plan to create locally controlled “Readiness” schools has also ruffled some feathers in the charter-school community, which fears a move toward these new schools will de-emphasize the role of traditional charter schools.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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