This move comes after California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed the groundbreaking and controversial Dream Act, putting education within reach even for the Golden State's illegal immigrants.
Despite opposition from the Republicans, the bill passed easily in the Democrat-controlled legislature, with Gov. Brown saying that the Act would give "top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us."
In 2001, California and Texas became the first of a dozen states to let undocumented students pay resident tuition rates if they met certain requirements. The Texas bill also offered undocumented Texans access to state financial aid. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's support of that measure has become a problem for him during his run for the GOP presidential nomination, with conservatives criticizing Mr. Perry's suggestion in a debate last month that the law's critics had no heart.
Under California's law, starting in 2013, undocumented students will be eligible to apply for state-funded Cal Grants and other public aid. The California Department of Finance estimates that 2,500 such students would qualify for such assistance as a result of the bill—representing $14.5 million, or about 1%, of the $1.4 billion Cal Grants program.
The legislation builds on a previous bill signed into law in July, which lets those students receive financial aid from private sources. The two laws are together known as the California Dream Act.
California's Dream Act is different from the federal initiative, which puts forth a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who can prove their education status and show an effort to become a legal resident. The measure failed to attract enough support in Congress last year, but with California having passed a smaller version of the bill, many pundits are hoping the Golden State will set the tone for the rest of the nation.
According to the U.S. Census, California is home to far more undocumented residents than any other state and has 28% of the country's Hispanic population.