From the office of Sen. J.B. Jennings:
With the ink still drying from last week’s bill signing that provided in-state tuition exemption for illegal immigrants, Governor O’Malley issued a statement that the Distinguished Scholars Award has been restored. This statement was released in less than a day after graduating seniors received notices from the Maryland Higher Education Commission that their Distinguished Scholar Awards were cancelled due to budget cuts. Approximately 350 Maryland high schools students were in jeopardy of losing these scholarships that provide $3,000 a year for high-achieving students who attend Maryland universities. The outcry from legislators, students, parents, and Maryland citizens brought about the sudden reconsideration by the Governor’s earlier decision to eliminate the scholarship program from this year’s budget – the elimination of this program would have saved the State approximately $1 million. Despite the Governor’s statement that this temporary elimination was an “error”, it begs the question of whether the Governor would have re-instated these awards had this story not been brought publicly on the same day he officially enacted the in-state tuition exemption for illegal immigrants?
To state the obvious, claiming that this was merely “error” holds little merit because the elimination of this funding originated from Governor O’Malley’s own FY12 budget proposal. Contained in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget were numerous funds designated by the Governor for drastic cuts or elimination – the Distinguished Scholar Award was among one of these programs eliminated. Furthermore, if Marylanders are to believe the Governor’s statement that, “our commitment to honor existing awards was not fulfilled”, then the accountability should be placed solely on the person who proposed to remove these awards in the first place – the Governor himself.
This is not the first occasion where the Governor’s “commitment” to honoring existing awards to Maryland students failed. In “2008,” the Maryland Higher Education Commission placed forty applicants on a wait list to receive their entitled Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship because the program was not fully funded in the Governor’s budget. The scholarship was established in “1990” to help offset the cost of higher education for survivors of public safety officers and others who have fallen or have been permanently disabled in the line of duty.
My office immediately intervened upon hearing that one of my constituents’ son feel victim to this wait list. Sadly, his eligibility for this program came at the grave cost of losing his father, a Baltimore County Policeman. He was killed in the line of duty leaving behind his wife of sixteen years and three children ages 10, 12, and 14 (at that time).
When this happened, former Senator Andrew Harris, Delegate Susan McComas, and I immediately submitted a written request to Governor O’Malley seeking immediate action to rectify this fiscal and moral catastrophe. In addition, local news media began covering this story and its development. Through the collaborative efforts made by myself and fellow colleagues, local news media, and most importantly, the families of students who were placed on the wait list, the Governor finally restored the funding so that all of the applicants received the Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarships.
Given these similar occurrences, it raises the fair question of whether the sincerity of the Governor’s “commitment” to ensuring State aid to those students who are in the most need is merely a fabrication generated by public outcry and media scrutiny.
The Governor’s calculated wording of “commitment” and “honor” are a stark contrast from the statements issued from his office one day prior. In a public statement, a spokesman for the Governor defended the decision to make the cuts to the program by stating, “every program can’t be protected.” Yet at the same time his office expresses no assurances to protect any program from budgetary cuts, he places his signature to legislation that will ensure the protection for illegal immigrants against State’s infringement from withholding tuition exemptions to attend public institutions to receive higher education. Governor O’Malley often cites a “One Maryland” mantra, but his actions reflect many Marylanders left behind.
Clearly, his inability or decision not to provide funding sends a definitive message to those 350 students and to future high schools students that this Administration seeks not to protect their interests, but rather to promote the financial security of certain students who hold no legal citizenship in this State or Country. In my opinion it was appalling to hold 350 high schools students, who are legal citizens that exemplified the highest achievement of academic excellence, hostage from receiving financial assistance in order to compensate and reward tuition exemptions to those who merely fall into the classification of an “illegal immigrant”.
The justification for the initial cut to the scholarship program by the Governor was based on the State’s recession and the necessity to reduce our budget shortfalls. If the ordinary Maryland taxpayer were to presume the Governor’s rationale to be true, then how can he validate the enactment of a new law that exempts illegal immigrants from paying out-of-state tuition for higher education that is projected to cost the State $3,505,700.00 by the year “2016?”.
There is no mathematical equation that can dispute the fact that this new law clearly supersedes the costs of funding a longstanding program that rewards students of excellence. Moreover, there is no guarantee offered by the Governor that this program will not be further subjected to budget manipulations in future years. As a result, Maryland’s future leaders are placed in a precarious position of seeking alternative means of financial assistance; attending school in another state; or possibly not attending a college due to lack of financial support. Meanwhile, the only certainty that this Administration has cemented is a legal promise to provide higher education entitlement to specific individuals first and for most, despite their flagrant violation to adhere to our federal immigration laws.
It’s ironic. Here our State Legislature and Administration boasts and criticizes the need for new laws to protect certain groups based on gender, sexual orientation, financial means, or legal citizenship, while stripping away the very same protections to those who are rightfully the most deserving of it.
State Senator, 7th Legislative District