By Diana Gener | Managing Editor
Students who were brought illegally in the U.S. when they were children, usually called Dreamers, will be able to get financial aid from the state to pursue higher education. State lawmakers passed the Washington State Dream Act—Senate Bill 6523—which will extend financial aid to 1,100 more students from state universities. These students will benefit from $5 millions that will be provided to the State Need Grant in order to cover this increase of tuitions expenses.This is the first law that the Legislature has passed this year, according to the Seattle Times.
The passing of the bill has been an unexpected switch. Washington’s Republican-led Senate passed on February 2nd a version of the DREAM act—Senate Bill 6523—renamed as “Real Hope Act”.The decision to bring up the bill was a reversal on the priorities that the State Senate had established for this term year. Previously, they had signaled that they would not bring up the bill at the beginning of the Legislature, when the Democratic controlled House voted 71-23 for its version of the bill on the first day of the session, according to the Seattle Times. But surprisingly, Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman Barbara Bailey said she would bring the bill up, which finally was passed by a 35 to 10 margin in the Senate. The bill was held in the Senate Higher Education Committee for more than a year. On February 18th the House approved the Senate version of the DREAM Act by 75 to 22 and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has already declared his support for the bill.According of statements made on his website when the Senate approved its version of it, Inslee said that ”this bill ensures that the young men and women we’ve invested in at our high schools and who aspire to become productive American citizens will now have fair access to the financial support they need to turn their dreams into reality.”
The bill that the Senate approved differs slightly from the one that the House passed earlier in that it provides an additional$5 million from the state’s general fund.They also gave it a different name: the “Real Hope Act.”
About 74,000 students receive State Need Grants, a program that was created in 1969 to “help the state’s lowest-income undergraduate students pursue degrees, hone their skills, or retrain for new careers.” According to the Seattle Times, last year 32,000 eligible students were turned away because lack of funding. According to Rachelle Sharpe of the Washington Student Achievement Council, who spoke to the Seattle Times, “these [new] students will be added to this large pool of students.” The fact that the bill has been passed doesn’t mean that all of them will get financial aid. Sharpe is in charge of administering the grants.
On the Washington Dream Act Coalition website Carlos Padilla, co-founder and current project coordinator, says that “5 years ago, we decided to come out as Undocumented and Unafraid in the state of Washington. Today, DREAMers across the state have empower themselves and have made this win possible.” This organization has been fighting for more than 10 years to ensure that undocumented young people have the right to get higher education in the U.S. According to a survey by Washington State Budget & Policy Center, “nearly 40 percent of undocumented youth do not graduate from high school, compared to 15 percent of lawfully present immigrants and 8 percent of U.S.-born citizens.”
With this unexpected resolution Washington State becomes the 17th state to have their own version of the DREAM act, as well as the fourth state to extend financial aid for undocumented students, along with California, Texas and New Mexico.
This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of the Central Circuit.