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January 17, 2014 at 6:00 AM
Patty Murray leads as Washington lawmakers stall on Dream Act
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced the IN-STATE for Dreamers Act of 2014, a measure that would provide states more money to help low-income kids pay for college tuition, regardless of their citizenship status. As The Seattle Times’ Kyung Song reports in this news story, Murray suggests paying for the $750 million cost by increasing student visas fees for international students.
If Congress agrees to pass Murray’s bill, the money would certainly help students in her home state. Look at the chart below, which shows how many of the state’s lowest-income students over the years have been served or turned away by the State Need Grant program.
Washington state could qualify for federal funding because it provides in-state tuition rates to all students, including the undocumented. So let’s encourage Congress to pass Murray’s legislation.
The timing is interesting because in Olympia, the state Legislature is considering the Washington State Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students to apply for the State Need Grant program. The Seattle Times editorial board published an editorial Friday supporting the effort, which sailed through the House within hours of the session’s start on Monday. HB 1817 is currently stuck in the Senate Higher Education Committee. Chairwoman Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, should give it a hearing and advance it to the floor.
A few of the latest excuses for not doing so include a shortage of funds in the State Need Grant program and ongoing efforts to change veterans’ tuition rules. The idea of rewarding illegal immigrants is another perennial complaint. As our editorial colleagues at The Herald of Everett aptly point out, “lawmaking isn’t a zero-sum game.” Lawmakers should be able to balance different priorities. Good students brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own — and educated in Washington’s public schools — deserve a shot at furthering their education.
Since 2007, lawmakers have steadily increased funding for the State Need Grant program, but the amounts haven’t kept up with demand and rising tuition rates. The roughly $303 million program turns away more than 30,000 students each year. This session, the Washington Student Achievement Council is requesting an additional $16 million for the program, a down payment compared with the $137 million needed to fully address unmet demand. The Legislature should make this investment as part of the state’s ambitious ten-year plan to improve education attainment and train tomorrow’s workforce.
How many undocumented students would pursue state aid? There’s no clear answer. Right now, the Washington Student Achievement Council estimates 811 undocumented students are paying in-state tuition. Census figures indicate about 13,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 are residing here illegally. How many of them want to go to college? There’s no way of really knowing until we have more tools and resources to bring them out of hiding.
First, the Washington state Legislature should pass the Dream Act. Congress should say yes to the IN-STATE Dreamers Act of 2014.