State Center Community College District joined four other California community college districts and the California Community Colleges in suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over eligibility restrictions that deny COVID-19 emergency relief funds to thousands of local college students — including undocumented students with DACA status.
The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, San Francisco, by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, representing California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and the board of governors. The suit seeks to have the restrictions declared unconstitutional and overturned.
More than 15,000 State Center students were deemed ineligible by U.S. Department of Education rules that were issued a month after Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, district spokeswoman Lucy Ruiz said.
Oakley said that as many as 800,000 California community college students — or more than half of all students enrolled in the state’s community colleges in the spring semester — were deemed ineligible for CARES Act higher education funds. The U.S. Department of Education ruled that only students eligible for federal financial aid could receive the funds.
The Education Department’s rules were in sharp contrast to the initial declaration that local community colleges would have discretion in distributing funds and that the emergency relief would be available to all students.
Federal Restrictions ‘Capricious’
California Community Colleges Board of Governors President Tom Epstein, calling the Department of Education’s restrictions “capricious,” said that Congress had set no eligibility requirements when authorizing the CARES Act funds to aid students with expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The federal rules exclude students with DACA status from being eligible for the relief funds.
The California Community Colleges serves an estimated 70,000 undocumented students, many of whom have DACA status. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a U.S. immigration policy that protects people brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and makes it legal for them to have a work permit.
The federal restrictions also excluded students who do not have a high school diploma or GED, and those who are in high school and participating in dual enrollment programs.
More than 800,000 CCC students have been excluded from funding eligibility. Includes +26,000 w/disabilities, +12,000 veterans, +1,700 in active duty, +150,000 low-income, +180,000 in health & First Responder training programs, & DACA students. We must stand up for ALL students. https://t.co/aDw9ntb4pu
— Annalisa Perea (@AnnalisaPerea) May 12, 2020
Rules Sharply Reduced Eligibility
Of the $114 million allocated to State Center and the four other plaintiff districts in the lawsuit through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, $57 million was supposed to be allocated directly to college students.
State Center’s share was $18.3 million, with $9.2 million to be allocated for students.
The State Center district includes Fresno City College, Reedley College, Clovis Community College, and college centers in Madera and Oakhurst.
Fresno City College initially identified 16,457 students as eligible for federal assistance based on factors such as income, Pell grant eligibility, and ZIP code. But after the Education Department imposed restrictions, only 8,149 students could receive the funds.
Reedley College initially identified 7,100 students but was limited to providing assistance to only 3,600 students, and also had to delay disbursement by two weeks.
Clovis Community College initially identified about 6,500 students for assistance grants but was limited to 2,700 students.
The other plaintiff districts are the Los Angeles Community College District, the Los Rios Community College District, which serves the greater Sacramento area, the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, which serves the South Bay area, and the San Diego Community College District.