Lobbying for education

By Daniel Rothberg

Last Wednesday, I traveled to Sacramento with Brian Schultz ’11 and Upper School Deans Rose-Ellen Racanelli and Vanna Cairns to attend a legislative conference. The goal of the conference was to lobby representatives in the state legislature to convince them of the importance of maintaining funding for Cal Grants and higher education in next year’s state budget.

 

The conference was sponsored by the Western Association for College Admissions Counseling. This is the first year that students have attended the conference. In total, three students attended the conference, two from Harvard-Westlake and one from Oaks Christian. The rest of the conference was comprised of about forty college counselors.

 

On Wednesday afternoon, ­we learned about the importance of the Cal Grant and how its removal would affect both California’s education system and its economy. In a nutshell, the Cal Grants program is a vital program that benefits low-income families who cannot afford the rising costs of public and private college tuition.

 

On Thursday, we spent the bulk of our day explaining to several legislative aides the significance of Cal Grants and how decreasing funding would affect the state of California.

 

Apart from learning about Cal Grants and funding for higher education, I learned a great deal about legislation known as the DREAM Act.

 

The proposed legislation would give undocumented college students the chance to become citizens and work in the United States under the condition that they meet certain requirements. If passed, the DREAM Act would only apply to undocumented residents that immigrated to the United States before the age of 15. Additionally, the DREAM Act would apply only to those who have demonstrated good moral character and seek to pursue professions that would benefit the greater community.

 

Shortly after we arrived in Sacramento on Wednesday, we attended a summit promoting the DREAM Act. At the summit, we heard testimony from legislators, educators and undocumented students. The statement that impacted me most was testimony given by a recent Harvard graduate named Gloria.

 

When Gloria was eight years old, her parents traveled with her to California illegally. By no choice of her own, she came to this country.

 

As a child, Gloria had dreamed of attending Harvard University. With the help of an English teacher, she achieved that goal and graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in English. Moreover, she received her middle school and high school teaching credential from Harvard. That’s the happy part of Gloria’s story.

 

Upon graduation, Gloria returned to her hometown, Santa Ana, California, only to find that she was not permitted to teach in the state because of her status as an undocumented resident. As a result, she is considering leaving the United States to pursue a career abroad.

 

Even though Gloria is a fully credentialed teacher, she has been barred from working as a teacher in the United States because of a choice that her parents had made years ago.

 

The DREAM Act has been introduced both in the California State Legislature and the United States Congress. The DREAM Act that was introduced in Congress has garnered support from President Obama and congressional members from both sides of the aisle. Additionally, in 2009, Harvard President Drew Faust endorsed the bill. The DREAM Act summit that we attended was sponsored by The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center and The California Legislative Tri-Caucus.

 

One of the most important things I learned in Sacramento is that as students, it is in our interest to ensure that the state of California maintains funding for Cal Grants and higher education. The education policy of today will determine what our state looks like both economically and socially in the years to come. Although seemingly expensive in the short-term, a strong education system is essential for the state’s long-term recovery and growth.

 

As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”

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