The state House overwhelmingly passed a bill Monday which would allow aspiring state college students who are not legal residents to apply for financial aid.
The so-called Dream Act passed the House 71-23 on the first day of the legislative session, a rarity which occurred because the bill went through a hearing process and was approved by the House during the 2013 legislative session. It died in Senate committee last year.
The bill allows some young people who are not legal residents of the U.S. to apply for financial aid to attend a state college. An existing state law also allows students who do not have legal status to receive in-state tuition at Washington colleges.
In order to be eligible for aid, a student must have completed a full senior year of high school at a Washington public or private school or received an equivalent diploma, such as a GED, and lived in Washington for at least three years immediately before receiving their diploma.
Students must either sign an affidavit indicating that they intend to file an application to become a legal permanent resident at the earliest time they are eligible to do so and are willing to pursue a path to citizenship, or have already applied for and received deferred action for childhood arrival status from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.
Reps. Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) and Terry Nealey (R-Dayton) voted in favor of the bill.
“I think it was the right thing to do,” said Walsh. “We’re talking about kids that grew up in our communities, went to school with our children.”
Nealey said he felt the measure supported education and had good requirements to limit eligibility to students who are from Washington.
“I think they ought to have an opportunity to complete college. It wasn’t their fault that they were in the United States without a legal citizenship status,” he said.
Some Republicans argued against the bill because over 30,000 Washington students applied for financial aid last year and didn’t receive it.
Nealey said while this is true, the bill is projected to add about 600 students per year to the financial aid pool, and simply gives them the chance to compete with everyone else.
Walsh added that the number of students who apply for and don’t receive state financial aid indicates a need to address that issue in the future with better education funding.
Senate leaders may not consider the bill, however. The Seattle Times reported yesterday Senate majority leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat caucusing with Republicans to form a Senate majority, said his caucus intends to focus on jobs, education and the budget.
Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla) said he couldn’t speak for other members of his caucus because he is not involved in leadership, but said he would support the Dream Act this year, assuming no extra programs or measures are added to it.
“I try to base all of my decisions on empowering people,” he said. “Many of these kids were brought to this country when they were two or three years old.”
He added that a national DREAM Act providing some of the same benefits to young undocumented people would help states who are trying to help those students.
“I’m really hoping Congress will someday get to this. It would alleviate a lot of pressure at the state level,” he said.