OLYMPIA — State Senate Republican leaders have agreed to authorize college financial aid for students illegally brought to the United States as children, a surprising shift that is expected to pave the way for passage of the major Democratic priority.
The Senate GOP will announce the decision at a 3:30 p.m. news conference, according to a top Republican senator.
Senate Bill 6523, introduced Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom and five others, would make the change and provide $5 million “or as much thereof as may be necessary” to account for increased participants in the State Need Grant program.
The bill would be called the “REAL (Real Educational Access, changing Lives) Hope Act.”
It is virtually identical to House Bill 1817, also called the state version of the “Dream Act,” which has been a big priority for Gov. Jay Inslee and other Democrats for more than a year.
The Democrat-controlled state House voted 71-23 to approve the bill on the first day of this year’s legislative session, but the Republican-run Senate had not been expected to take it up.
Speaking for the caucus, Oak Harbor Republican Barbara Bailey said earlier this month that, “we have a lot of things that take priority over this.”
Bailey, the chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said the bill did not make sense because more than 30,000 students applied for state financial aid last year and didn’t get it.
Senate Republicans also declined to take up the bill after it passed the state House last year. Minority Democrats even attempted, unsuccessfully, to take over the Senate to bring up the bill.
Bailey was one of six initial sponsors of Senate Bill 6523, alongside Tom and Republicans Joe Fain, Andy Hill, Steve Litzow and Bruce Dammeier.
State Rep. Larry Seaquist, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, called the Senate GOP’s move “a win for our students.”
“This is saying to all Latino students: ‘the door’s open. We want you in our universities,’” said Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor. “It’s important for our whole state. We can’t survive as a state if we don’t have all of these people going through our colleges and universities.”