CORNING — Congressman Tom Reed shifted his focus on Thursday from what’s happening in Washington to what’s happening in the state capital.
And he doesn’t like it.
In particular, the Corning Republican, who represents the 23rd District in the House, is taking aim at the passage last week of the so-called Dream Act, which would extend state financial aid to students brought into the country illegally as children.
The measure has passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly in several previous sessions, but it was blocked by Republicans for years until Democrats won control of the state Senate in November.
The legislation ensures that New York children will have the same access to state loans and grants no matter their legal status as American citizens. To be eligible, a person must have a New York high school diploma or the equivalent or meet the requirements for in-state tuition.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the measure and is expected to sign it into law.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, Reed said he objects to taxpayer funds helping people without legal status get the same access to financial aid as legal residents of New York, especially when so many college graduates are saddled with heavy student loan debt.
“When I talk to kids that are coming out of school today with $200,000, $300,000 worth of debt and the relief to them isn’t there ... that they somehow should have precedence over our children, our kids getting a college education is just wrong, flat wrong,” said Reed.
The congressman said that while the state will spend additional money on education through the act — it’s expected to cost $27 million annually — legislators are doing nothing to control the cost of college in New York.
“I am getting sick and tired of hearing from our state capital and political leaders, especially on the left, that say the way to solve the college cost crisis is just more and more taxpayer dollars into these colleges and universities, so we can give the illusion (we’re offering) free college tuition. ...What are you doing to hold these colleges and universities accountable to get these costs down?”
Reed’s reference to free college tuition is apparently the state’s Excelsior Scholarship, which augments existing state tuition assistance programs to provide free tuition for income-eligible students.
He said that the Dream Act is “rewarding them (colleges) to raise costs” with no accountability.
Reed said state legislators are not being mindful of where the money to pay for the program comes from.
“They’re deploying our taxpayer dollars to pay for free college education for illegal immigrants,” he said. “I think it’s only incumbent upon me to stand up and say that is not a priority.”
New York would join California, Texas and four other states with similar laws on the books.
As part of the legislation, a new state commission and state fund would be created to identify private sources of funding for scholarships.
Like Reed, Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly argued the Dream Act is unfair to taxpayers and immigrants who came legally and that people who entered the country illegally shouldn’t be given the same level of state support.
The Associated Press contributed information to this story.