An ongoing dispute over the elimination of a scholarship geared toward undocumented youth is gaining the attention of community leaders across the city.
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) rallied with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and several immigration advocacy groups outside City Hall last Thursday, urging Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn to reconsider a 2011 budget slash to his father’s scholarship program.
The Peter F. Vallone Scholarship, dubbed “New York City’s original Dream Act” by the younger Vallone, was available to all students enrolled in CUNY colleges, regardless of immigration status. Roughly 15,000 students were the recipients of the grant before it was cut.
“The Vallone Scholarship was New York City’s Dream Act — it was a reality here when the state and federal acts were just dreams,” Vallone said at the rally. “It was a promise we made to our hardest-working kids, that we would help them achieve their dreams of a college education, and it was a promise that was broken.”
Although Vallone’s “original Dream Act” scholarship granted educational funding for undocumented students across the city, itdid not provide conditional permanent residency like recipients of the proposed federal Dream Act would receive.
Those opposed to the grant’s elimination accused Quinn of retaliating against Vallone for speaking out against the renaming of the Queensboro Bridge for former Mayor Ed Koch and labeled the cuts an act of political retribution.
Supporters of the scholarship’s renaissance also point to rising CUNY tuition costs, which almost doubled in the last 10 years, as an indicator that it will be needed in the future.
“All of us need to fight against any politician who places petty political payback ahead of that opportunity,” said Thompson, who along with Quinn is a Democratic mayoral candidate. “The message to the leaders in City Hall is simple — do the right thing ... restore this scholarship and stop playing political games with the future of our city.”
Approximately $6 million was allocated to Vallone’s scholarship annually through member item funding. The grant was instituted by the City Council in 1997.
Although Vallone and many supporters of the scholarship believe Quinn killed the grant for political payback, many of Quinn’s supporters say she had limited power over discretionary funding and the City Council’s budget negotiation team.
A teachers’ initiative launched by the City Council, which aimed to increase funding for classroom supplies, was cut the same year due to budget limitations, they say.
Nonetheless, Vallone, mayoral hopefuls and activist organizations remain strident in their push to convince Quinn and Bloomberg to reinstate funding for the scholarship.
“The Vallone Scholarship needs to be reinstated for all CUNY students immediately,” said Natalia Aristizabal, a youth organizer for Make the Road New York. “Throughout my college life, I saw that all my Dreamer friends who got the scholarship focused much better in school and in their activities.”
Make the Road New York, the Asian American Coalition for Education and the New York Public Interest Research Group are among many of the organizations that support the scholarship’s revival.