Arizona DACA Dreamers Named Annual Peter Jennings Award Winner
Teach For America Arizona alumni Reyna Montoya and Jose Patiño recognized for leading efforts to pass a state law reinstating in-state college tuition for Arizona students regardless of immigration status.
PHOENIX, ARIZONA NOVEMBER 9, 2023 - Two Teach For America alumni, Reyna Montoya (Phoenix ‘14) and Jose Patiño (Phoenix ‘14), who spearheaded the successful campaign for Proposition 308, a ballot initiative to reinstate in-state tuition to immigrants in Arizona, have been named the recipients of the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership. The Peter Jennings Award, named in honor of the late ABC News anchor and longtime supporter of Teach For America, recognizes Teach For America alumni who embody the organization’s core values and whose work led to significant change for excellence and equity in education. It is estimated that more than 65,000 current and potentially returning students will see the immediate benefits of this initiative in 2023 alone.
“Peter believed in Teach For America, because he believed in the power of public education. He knew that equal opportunity depends on educational opportunity and he saw how Teach For America relentlessly pursued that for all kids,” said Kayce Freed Jennings, Peter’s wife. “In this year’s winners and finalists, we see the determination, passion, and commitment to community that is such an integral part of the TFA ethos and so deeply embedded in its alumni corps.”
The two other finalists also submitted strong examples of systemic change for youth worth highlighting. The 150 Years is Enough campaign from Andrea McChristian (Las Vegas ‘08) aimed to address the Nation’s largest disparity of Black and white incarcerated youths in the state of New Jersey by ending youth incarceration in the state. And Hoang Murphy (Baltimore ‘14), founder and executive director of Foster Advocates, put foster care in Minnesota’s public policy spotlight, successfully lobbying state legislators to pass a series of laws that are having a dramatic impact on the opportunities available to foster youth. The most significant of these policy wins is the Fostering Higher Education Act, passed in 2021, which guarantees free college to foster youth in the state.
In 2016, this year’s winners Reyna Montoya founded Aliento, and Jose Patiño joined the organization a year later. Initially, Montoya says, she set up Aliento, the Spanish word for “breath,” as a way to support immigrants, especially young people, work through their trauma in therapeutic ways such as the Arts. But over time, Aliento evolved, and starting in 2018, Montoya and Patiño began working on their most significant achievement to date: Passing a state law that reinstated in-state college tuition for Arizona students, regardless of their immigration status.
Both Montoya and Patiño are what are now known as “DREAMers” under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Both were blindsided as Arizona teenagers in 2006 when the state passed Proposition 300, which required students without lawful immigration status to pay out-of-state tuition. Through private scholarships, both were eventually able to attend and graduate from Arizona State University, but they knew their good fortune was not necessarily accessible to all students, particularly the students they worked with as teachers and then as leaders of Aliento.
Patiño recalls when the state first banned in-state tuition for undocumented students in 2006, he was sure “somebody older and smarter” would fix it. And for a time in Arizona, DREAMers were eligible for in-state tuition again. However, in 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled that DACA recipients should no longer be eligible for in-state tuition, saying that state and federal laws prohibited it. After that ruling, Patiño realized those smart, older fixers would need to come from the Aliento community.
Because they are not U.S. citizens, Montoya and Patiño could not gather signatures to put the law to a statewide vote, so through Aliento they met with every member of the state legislature on both sides of the aisle to eventually pass a resolution to put the question before voters. Aliento organized an intensive youth effort to educate voters and rally support for what became known as Prop 308.
“Our biggest strength has been working with youth, really being able to show their lived experience and the ramifications of not being able to pass this,” Montoya said. “Through phone calls, door knocking, and other contact points, we estimate Aliento engaged more than 65,000 voters over the course of the campaign.” Each one of those engagements ended up making the difference when voters passed Proposition 308 by a razor-thin margin – 51 percent to 49 percent – reinstating in-state tuition for undocumented students.
“For Reyna and José to build overwhelming bipartisan support across so many lines of difference—and during a time of such polarization in our country—shows an incredible amount of leadership, strategic action, grit, resilience, and courage," said Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard (Phoenix ‘98). “Their success in passing Prop 308 is also significant because they activated the young people most affected by the initiative to lead the way, reflecting the beliefs of Peter Jennings, the award’s namesake. He was a visionary who understood that if we invest in and embolden our young people, America’s best days will lie ahead.”
Past honorees of this award include:
- 2020: Shannen Coleman Siciliano (Baltimore ‘03), Joe Francaviglia (Baltimore ‘11), Taylor Stewart (Baltimore ‘07), and Shamoyia Gardiner (Jacksonville ‘14) from Strong Schools Maryland and state legislators Bill Ferguson (Baltimore ‘05) and Ross Seidman (Baltimore ‘15) for their advocacy work for The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
- 2019: Janna Wagner (New York ‘95) and Sammy Politziner (New York ‘99), for their work as Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer and Board Member, All Our Kin
- 2018: Heather Anichini (Chicago-Northwest Indiana ‘02), for her work as President and CEO, Chicago Public Education Fund
- 2017: Jeffrey Riley (Baltimore ‘93), for his work as the (Former) Superintendent, Lawrence MA Public Schools
- 2016: Sophia Pappas (New Jersey ‘03), for her work as (Former) CEO, Division of ECE, New York City Department of Education
- 2015: DeRay Mckesson (New York ‘07) and Brittany Packnett (D.C. Region ‘07), for their work as Social and Racial Activists
- 2014: Kaya Henderson (New York ‘92) and Kevin Huffman (Houston ‘92), for their work as (Former) Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools and (Former) Tennessee Commissioner of Education
- 2013: Julie Jackson (New Jersey ‘94), for her work as the Chief of Schools Officer, K-8, Uncommon Schools
- 2012: Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise (Houston ‘92), Sarah Newell Usdin (South Louisiana ‘92), Kira Orange Jones (South Louisiana ‘00), for their work as Executive Director, KIPP New Orleans; Board Member, Orleans Parish School Board; and (Former) Executive Director, Teach For America Greater New Orleans
- 2011: Mike Johnston (Greater Delta ‘97), for his work as (Former) State Senator, Colorado
- 2010: Tim Daly (Baltimore ‘99), for his previous work on the Widget Effect at TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project)
- 2009: Jeremy Beard (Los Angeles ‘95), JoAnn Gama (Rio Grande Valley ‘97) and Tom Torkelson (Rio Grande Valley ‘97), for their work as the Head of Schools, YES Prep Public Schools; Co-Founder, (Former) President and Superintendent, IDEA Public Schools; Co-Founder and (Former) CEO, IDEA Public Schools
- 2008: Cami Anderson (Los Angeles ‘93), for her work as (Former) Superintendent, New York City Department of Education
- 2007: Michelle Rhee (Baltimore ‘92), for her previous work at TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project)
About Teach For America
Teach For America works in partnership with communities across the country to expand educational opportunities for children. Founded in 1990, Teach For America finds, develops, and supports a diverse network of leaders who expand opportunity for children from classrooms, schools, and every sector and field that shapes the broader systems in which schools operate. Today, Teach For America is a force of nearly 70,000 alumni, corps members, Ignite fellows, and staff working in pursuit of profound systemic change so that one day every child has an equal opportunity to learn, lead, thrive, and co-create a future filled with possibility. Teach For America is a proud member of the AmeriCorps national service network. For more information, visit www.teachforamerica.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.