Two committees of the Connecticut General Assembly are considering legislation this week to assist community college students with last dollar scholarships and support for child care services while they are in school.
Last Dollar Scholarships
At a Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee hearing held March 3rd legislators heard testimony in support of House Bill 5353 that would approve $16 million to fund Pledge To Advance Connecticut (PACT) , a debt-free college program for first-time, full-time community college students. Last year the Legislature enacted legislation that is intended to make last dollar scholarships available to students who also qualify for federal student aid. It is now up to the Legislature to provide funds for the program that would take effect in the fall 2020 semester for entering students.
To fund the estimated $16 million price tag for the PACT scholarships in the next academic year HB 5353 calls for a “debt-free community college account” in the General Fund with either state appropriations or revenue from Connecticut Lottery games.
The funding proposed in HB 5353 differs significantly from Governor Lamont’s budget proposal that would restrict PACT scholarships to students enrolling within a year of graduating from high school with limited, pilot funding. Proponents say this would leave out a significant percentage of community college students from 18 to 24 year olds who do not immediately pursue post-secondary education after high school or GED completion.
In testimony March 3rd, Carmila Bartoletto of CT Students for a Dream expressed support for the Debt Free Community College program but disagreed with limiting eligiblity to only students who qualify for FAFSA (federal student aid). “When making the requirements for the program, only FAFSA was included as a way for undocumented students to demonstrate need,” Bartoletto testified. “Undocumented immigrant students, even those who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status, cannot complete and use the FAFSA to determine need; therefore, they would be excluded. By excluding undocumented students from the debt-free community college program, Connecticut has taken a step backward and has placed a barrier for undocumented students, leaving them at an even bigger disadvantage than their peers.”
Maureen Chalmers, the President of the Congress of CT Community Colleges (4Cs), the labor union representing faculty and staff at 12 community colleges, urged the committee’s approval to “properly fund this initiative, so it can be as successful as it is in others states that have made the investment. There should not be a penalty for Connecticut High School graduates who opted or needed to go into the workforce after graduation rather than directly to college. There should not be a means testing as we can not know what financial hardship a family is experiencing regardless of their income bracket. Young people should not be saddled with college debt when they are launching their careers, businesses and families.”
The Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee is expected to make a favorable recommendation on a final version of HB 5353 before it goes to the Appropriations Committee and votes in the House and Senate before the end of the session in May.
Care4Kids For Student Parents
On Friday, March 6th the Education Committee will hear testimony on a House Bill 5220 extending eligibility in the Care4Kids program to parents participating in an Even Start program or enrolled in secondary education programs.
Connecticut is one of only two states that makes no provision for parents to access the child care subsidy (Care4kids) to participate in job training or education for parents who are not on Temporary Family Assistance (TFA), according to the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance. Similar legislation was considered but not enacted in the 2019 legislative session.
“By not allowing parents to use Care4Kids while they are in school we make it harder for parents (particularly mothers) to get the education and job training they need to get better jobs to help support their families,” says an Early Childhood Alliance fact sheet.
In testimony submitted prior to the Friday hearing, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving strongly supported HB 5220: “Care4Kids is a critical program that ensures working parents can access safe, high -quality child care. Extending Care4Kids to families who are pursuing education or training to increase their earning potential will help families exit poverty and reach greater self-sufficiency.”
At Capital Community College 80 percent of current students (3,102 Fall 2019) are enrolled part time and almost seven of 10 qualify some form of financial aid; 71% are women. Both part- and full-time students often balance work, family responsibilities and study. According to student surveys financial aid and child care are primary concerns.
For more information contact the Capital Community College Foundation office: CAfirstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone 860-906-5102.
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