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Lt. Gov. Garcia Testimony for ASSET Bill (SB13-33) // as prepared

Madame Chair and members of the Senate Education committee…my name is Joe Garcia and I am here to voice my support, and the support of Gov. Hickenlooper, for SB13-033.
Only two short weeks ago, Gov. Hickenlooper, in his 2013 State of the State address said, “Let’s find an equitable and fair way for undocumented kids – kids who have grown up here and done well in school – to pursue a higher education.”

Gov. Hickenlooper has long supported access to high quality public education for all the children in Colorado, including those with limited financial resources but also with unlimited ambition and a willingness to work hard. He has said repeatedly, that all students must see a path forward.
In my own role as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and as a president with 10 years experience leading two of Colorado’s public institutions of higher education – both a community college and a university, I have learned the wisdom of his words.

As you know by now, most of the governing boards of Colorado’s public institutions of higher education have also voiced support for this bill and, so, too, has the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE). You will shortly hear from two CCHE members and at least two college presidents.
As in past years, I believe you will also hear from a long list of business executives who have voiced their support.

While serving as a college and university president, I was approached on several occasions by teachers who knew of students—exceptional students— who were approaching graduation—students who worked hard and achieved academic success… students who were leaders, honor students, and student athletes, …exactly the kind of students I wanted at my institutions,…talented, hard working, academically successful students who would enhance our academic environment and would be good role models for other students.

But those students couldn’t come because we could not offer them an affordable tuition rate. The higher non-resident rate meant, for all intents and purposes, that they had no path forward.
That frustrated me, because as long as I had unused capacity, as long as I had one unfilled seat, it was in my interest to fill it and to bring in additional tuition revenue. But, generally I had to tell those students that I couldn’t help them.

That was just the way it was and still is in Colorado, although many other states have seen the wisdom of a different approach. In fact, even states that have traditionally been very conservative politically,… states like Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Utah, just to name a few of our closest neighbors, have chosen to offer in-state tuition rates to graduates of their states’ high schools, even those students who were not documented citizens.

Why did they do so? They did it for the same reason Colorado should—because it made their states stronger and it will make our state stronger.

These students are here now. These students have worked hard and done well.

These students arrived here at an early age, brought here not knowing the significance of a piece of paper they did not have, …brought here by well meaning parents who only wanted a better future for their kids, …just as we all want a better future for our kids.

And, importantly, if these students are permitted to continue to achieve, to perform, and to lead, they will contribute to the long term economic vitality of our state, and a better future for all of us.

These are students who have attended Colorado public schools for many years. We have already invested a tremendous amount in their education. Why, now that they are ready to make their own investment and when the state – through its institutions – will gain revenue – would we stop them?
These are students who want to become citizens – they want to become contributors to our knowledge based economy. They know, and you will hear shortly from many of them, that educational success will require their hard work and that there are no free rides. This bill won’t change that.

But, this bill will provide:

  • A path forward for students and a path forward for Colorado. We cannot predict where that path will eventually lead for every student, but we do know that if they are educated they will be better prepared to improve the quality of their own lives and the quality of life for our communities.
  • The Governor and I support this bill because we want Colorado to have a strong economy, an economy that is globally competitive, and that requires good schools, good students, and good graduates.
  • The long term success of this state and our ability to lead our nation as a center for innovation turns on our commitment to provide an educational opportunity for all those individuals who reside within our borders.

Let me close with a story of a young man I met last fall. His father, Jesus, came to the US in the early 1980s without documentation but with a willingness to work hard and a desire to create a better future for himself and his family. His family included a dark-skinned, wiry 4 year old son named Leonel. They settled in a small town in Texas where his father found a job and enrolled his kids in public schools. Little Leonel was a good student but he also found something he loved, and that was running. He ran for his high school, ultimately winning many state titles and setting numerous state records.

At the same time, his father, relying on the provisions in an immigration bill signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, applied for and obtained legal status as a US citizen, and then helped his children to do the same. Leonel graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Texas, where he continued to win races, set state and national records, earn a degree and, last summer, he represented the US in the Olympics where he became the first American in over 35 years to win a medal in the 1500 meter race.

Little Leonel, now known as Leo Manzano, ran as a proud US citizen and, after the race, he tweeted, as young Americans do, of his feelings. He tweeted in English and in Spanish, and went on to say he wanted to be an inspiration to all American and Mexican American young people—to demonstrate what could be accomplished with hard work, dedication, and a belief in the American dream.
We know there are many more Leonels out there. Let’s help them achieve their dreams, and build a better economy in Colorado by doing so.

Thank you. I strongly encourage your support of this bill.