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College funding bill eyed for illegal immigrants' kids

Students and educators rally in support of the

Students and educators rally in support of the New York State DREAM act at Nassau Community College in Garden City. (Feb. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY -- State legislative leaders indicated Tuesday that momentum is building toward creating a fund to help children of illegal immigrants pay for college, but differences still might prevent an agreement.

The Democrat-dominated state Assembly advanced a bill that would allow children of illegal immigrants to participate in state tuition-assistance programs. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Republican co-leader of the state Senate said the GOP would take up the idea of a privately funded scholarship program "at the appropriate time."

At stake is whether New York would approve a "Dream Act" or "Dream Fund." The former involves access to publicly funded college financial-aid programs; the latter means creating a program through private funds. Republicans balked at such proposals a year ago.

This year, after forming a power-sharing agreement with dissident Democrats, Senate co-leader Dean Skelos has said the notion of a Dream Fund "has a possibility to pass." A Skelos spokesman said Tuesday Republicans would air the issue in a closed-door conference.

"At the appropriate time, we will discuss the Dream Fund with all of the members of the Senate Republican conference," said spokesman Scott Reif.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said he'd push for immigrants' full access to tuition-assistance programs and called Skelos' idea "half a loaf."

"I don't believe it is acceptable to the members of this conference," Silver, flanked by more than two dozen Assembly Democrats, said at a news conference. "There is no logic to it."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he supports a Dream Fund at the federal level but has been noncommittal about a separate state program. A spokesman said Tuesday the governor would review the legislative proposals.

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