A California assemblymember wants to mandate that students apply for a federal student loan program as a requirement for high school graduation. Under this bill tax returns and a family’s financial information would have to be turned over to the federal government just for a student to receive their high school diploma. Some parents are angry over the invasion of privacy while others think it will help low-income students get into college.
Existing law as passed by AB 2015 authored by Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes (D-47) established the ability of schools to offer instruction on Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion.
Now Reyes has authored AB 1617 that adds a caveat: Students must complete a Free Federal Student Aid packet to graduate from high school.
“We are moving to require completion because concerns have been raised that many schools and districts are not giving the completion of FAFSA the attention it deserves given its importance in higher education achievement,” said Reyes.
The bill also addresses students who are non-citizens under the California Dream Act mandating they also apply for the program even if they don’t plan to attend college.
“Receiving financial assistance can make the difference between whether or not a student attends college so we must ensure that students are given every opportunity to properly prepare,” said Assemblywoman Reyes. “Often, students and families do not know how important it is to complete the FAFSA even though it can open up education financing opportunities that otherwise could go unused, making college appear out of reach.”
Reyes told the Globe the reason for the new bill is because the California Student Aid Commission reported the classes of 2017 and 2018 only averaged a 54 percent completion rate for FAFSA.
“The National College Access Network (NCAN) found that 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college after graduating from high school, compared to just 55 percent of those who did not,” said Reyes.
A parent in the Val Verde Unified School district who is also a teacher told the California Globe she believes the bill is a mechanism to data-mine and is a violation of personal freedoms.
“I want to know why they are considering to make this mandatory to graduate high school,” said a parent from the Temecula Valley Unified School District, Amy Bentley. “If you are not going to a four-year school, you don’t need federal financial aid. This is way too much Big Brother for my taste. Making all families apply for FAFSA as a graduation requirement is ridiculous.”
Reyes said, “ While I’m sure there are concerns about the information required this is information that is going to be required at some point in a student’s life if they wish to go to college or pursue a technical education. The financial information is not provided to the school district but as part of the calculation of what the student may receive in financial aid.”
A California Republican Delegate and member of the California Teachers Association Republican Caucus, Stephanie Shields-Sporcich said, “It forces people into the college system and influences them with financial aid to enroll in school when they may not really be ready or serious to make that commitment so drop out rates are higher and taxpayer money funding is wasted on people who were not serious to attend college at the time but they were forced to enroll.”
Without the mandate to apply for FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education already provides $120 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds for students attending a college or career school. According to the text in AB 1617, more than 13 million students receive funding. FAFSA is a federal program for low-income students.
“All my middle-class friends and family were only offered $5,500 a year in federal loans which is a joke, not nearly enough. Most middle-class parents like me would have to get private loans or charge up a credit card,” said Bentley.
Shields-Sporich also said the bill would increase the taxpayer burden by mandating non-citizens apply for college aid and lure more non-citizens to California.
“The completion of FAFSA and Dream Act applications present an enormous opportunity to low income and other traditionally underserved populations to obtain postsecondary education. Furthermore, California will now provide two years of community college for free, something that is not possible without completion of the FAFSA.
Reyes said, “The completion of the Dream Act applications present an enormous opportunity to low income and other traditionally underserved populations to obtain postsecondary education. Furthermore, both FAFSA and the Dream Act will help students because California now provides two years of community college for free, something that is not possible without completion of the FAFSA.
The expense of the school districts will incur from SB 1617 would be paid for by the state. Reyes wrote in the bill’s text that the California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. This mandate would force all taxpayers in California to fund the program. The cost at this time is unknown as well as the legality of implementing the mandate.