BY MARTIN PEREZ
In the wake of the Governor’s historic win of 51% of the Latino vote, the issue of in-state tuition has become the site of a heated turf war between N.J. Democrats and Governor Christie. This lame duck battle is a good sign for Latinos who traditionally have been taken for granted by the Democrats, while unloved by the Republicans. But its anyone’s guess whether the dustup produces enacted legislation that will ensure undocumented New Jersey high school graduates will pay in-state, rather than out-of- state, tuition while attending state institutions of higher education. This is because the issue has been clouded by the attachment to the bill of a financial aid provision that never before appeared in the any of the predecessor bills, going back through each and every legislative session since 2003.
It warms Latino hearts to hear the Senate President champion the in-state tuition cause. But unless he delivers the bills’ passage and enactment, Latinos will have no choice but to conclude the financial aid component was an insincere effort meant to kill the bill. After all, since 2003 the Democrats failed to move the bill when it did not contain a financial aid provision and they controlled both the legislature and Governor’s Office. Governor Christie, to his credit, is the first Governor since legislation was first introduced in 2003 to commit to sign an in-state tuition bill, but he has made it clear he takes exception to the financial aid provision.
Latinos know that education is the great equalizer and they are not afraid to work hard to get it. Our community wants every possible tool that can help ensure more Latinos enter and graduate college, from more school choice, including scholarships for children in failing schools, to financial aid for our college bound undocumented students. But, the historic truth is that since 2003, when the in-state tuition issue first gained ground as a filed bill, the Latino community did not advocate or demand that financial aid accompany the in-state tuition. While financial aid would be beneficial, the last thing we need is a Washington style impasse that squanders the opportunity to make progress by enacting what has been on the table since 2003.
Perez heads the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, which endorsed Gov. Chris Chirstie’s re-election bid. Perez was also appointed to the Rutgers University’s Board of Governors by Christie.