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State Puts a Precise Cost on Helping Illegal Immigrant Students

Thursday, December 08, 2011 - 04:31 PM

Any calculation over how much New York State would spend annually if it were to provide college tuition assistance to illegal immigrants amounts to an educated guess.

In the bill it sent to the Legislature on Thursday, the state’s Education Department offered its best estimate: $627,428.

The number, though specific, is an extrapolation. But it is also so low when compared to other expenses the state has, in education and otherwise, that the bill’s chief supporters -- the education commissioner, John B. King Jr., and the Board of Regents chancellor, Merryl H. Tisch -- hope it will help mollify some of the opposition the bill is bound to face.

Here is how the figure was reached.

The National Immigration Law Center estimates that 65,000 children of illegal immigrants graduate from high schools in the United States each year. The state Education Department assumes that 7 percent of them, or 4,550 students, graduate from high school in New York.

Of those, 5 percent, or 227 students, will choose to attend public colleges in New York, the bill assumes. The average cost per student for the state’s tuition assistance program in the last school year was $2,764. Multiply that by 227 and, voilá!

In a memorandum of support for the bill, Richard J. Trautwein, deputy commissioner for legal affairs for the state’s Education Department, argues that the cost will be offset, at least in part, by increased income tax revenues “generated by affording this population the opportunity to complete college and obtain higher-paying jobs,” as well as the decline in the amount of money the state would spend in public assistance for these students.

The bill, known as the New York State Dream Act, after a federal proposal that would afford a path to citizenship to certain illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, still has no sponsor in the Legislature. But, Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the Education Department, said that Dr. King, the commissioner, “has had conversations with numerous lawmakers who are interested” in learning more about the bill.

Ultimately, Mr. Tompkins said, the sponsorship of the bill would be decided by leaders of the state’s Senate and Assembly. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, is a close friend of Dr. Tisch.

In addition to making tuition assistance available to illegal immigrants attending public colleges in the state, the bill would allow them to use taxpayer identification numbers to open and maintain college savings accounts.

It would also require those who benefit from its provisions to sign an affidavit promising to file the documents necessary to legalize their immigration status -- once the federal government makes doing so possible, that is.

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