Senate Passes RISE Act, Awaits Pritzker’s Signature

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationHouse Bill 2691 that would create the Retention of Illinois Students and Equity (RISE) Act to ensure financial aid equity for minority and marginalized young people, passed the Senate on Wednesday. “Every student, regardless of their immigration status or gender identity, deserves full access to higher education,” said Senator Omar Aquino. “Our state has an obligation to these students to make sure that we can provide them with the economic means to be successful and enter the work force.”

The legislation will expand access to state aid by increasing the credit hour limit in place that disproportionately locks out African-American and other people of color from state aid. In 2018, 1,700 students who applied for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant were denied because they had surpassed the current credit hour limit. Often times, students who come from inadequately funded schools districts have to take additional coursework to catch up to their peers, which is why they reach the credit hour threshold much quicker. RISE Act will also allow Illinois students who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, such as DACA recipients, to be eligible for state financial aid, as well as transgender students who do not register for required military purposes and as result are ineligible for federal aid. The measure was recently approved by the House Higher Education Committee.

Under current law, undocumented students are ineligible for State financial assistance. Transgender students who do not register for selective service are also barred from receiving aid. “This is a matter of priorities,” said Aquino. “You need to ask yourself as a legislator, ‘Do I prioritize students?’ ‘Do I prioritize undocumented immigrants?’ ‘Do I prioritize transgender people and their rights?’ All of these people pay taxes in our state and deserve to receive the benefits they pay into.”

Last month HB 2691 passed the House. “Retaining Illinois students and creating equitable access to colleges and universities is a moral imperative and benefits all residents in Illinois,” said Assistant Majority Leader Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez (D-24), chief sponsor of the RISE Act in a statement to the press.

“We applaud the efforts of leaders of the black and brown caucuses, especially Leader Hernandez, Leader Gordon Booth, and Rep. Ammons for recognizing and representing the needs of our diverse communities,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of PASO-West Suburban Action Project and board president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). “This is a vital step forward in ensuring that all students in Illinois have equitable access to higher education.”

“For many Trans students, they choose to not even file the FAFSA for fear of being outed and the consequences, safety, and civil rights concerns that might come with it,” said Myles Brady Davis, communications manager and press secretary for Equality Illinois. “College represents a fresh start, and today’s House passage of the RISE Act recognizes the rights of Trans students to have that start, too.”

House Bill 2691 awaits the governor’s signature.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Education

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Education

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