Late Tuesday night, Democrat Representative Peggy Krusick made an amendment to the Talent Incentive Program (TIP) that was bound to get attention. TIP is a program intended to help disadvantaged students by mitigating roadblocks to educational opportunity. Currently, to qualify for the grant, one must be poor, a minority, incarcerated, disabled, or enrolled as a first generation college student.
Krusick's late night amendment would remove "minority status" from the application process. Although her amendment received unanimous Republican support, it evoked caustic criticisms by her own party. Latina Representative JoCasta Zamarripa noted in her press release that "the GOP and Krusick have no problem with the other eligibility criterion."
Zamarripa makes an astute point. The message that Krusick and her Republican allies sent is that even criminals are more entitled to educational grants than students of color. People born into poverty, minority households, or with disabilities weren't given a choice, but those incarcerated for law breaking had a choice.
We agree with Republicans that no preferential treatment should be given to students strictly because of race. However, we reject the amendment because it clearly targeted minority students over criminals. Valuable time was wasted driving a political wedge even further between them and the minority community rather than doing something productive.
Zamarripa wasn't the only Democrat who voiced concerns about the amendment. Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, a Democrat from Madison, didn't hold back any punches. She said,
"Yet again the GOP has shown they will use any issue to distract from the fact they are not doing anything to create jobs in Wisconsin. They have chosen to divide our state repeatedly, by pushing right-wing social measures and attacking the economic security of middle class families. The ‘highlight' of this jobless special session was the surprise stripping away of educational opportunities for young people of color."
Roys' punch might have been a little below the belt. After all, it was a Democrat that initiated the so-called "right-wing social measure," and Krusick's amendment has no real measurable effect on the economic security of middle class families anyway. But Republicans should be thinking of ways to improve Wisconsin's economy first and foremost - even if it means thinking outside the box.
Utah, for instance, passed a guest-worker program that would give undocumented immigrants a permit to work legally in the state. The economic benefits of this program are obvious, but would right-wing Wisconsin Republicans like Don Pridemore consider such out-of-the box type thinking? His enforcement only plan would be costly to the state.
Earlier this year, Republicans rescinded instate tuition rates granted to undocumented students by the Doyle Administration. It was a mistake that showed their inability to see what's farther down the road. Traditionally, immigration enforcement policies are financially burdensome to implement. There is no good reason to believe that that Republicans or Democrats have the political will or financial resources to execute mass deportation policies. If undocumented immigrants are not going anywhere, then why do our policies ensure they stay a permanent underclass?
Instate tuition rates aside, Republicans aren't making their situation any better. It's one thing oppose grants on the basis of race, but another thing to take grants away from minorities and instead giving them to convicts. It leaves a nasty impression that the GOP cares more for criminals than they do for minorities.