Give the DREAM Act a fair Senate floor vote

The OlympianJanuary 24, 2014 

If reasonable minds prevail, the Republican-controlled state Senate will allow a floor vote on both the Washington DREAM Act and the military service education bill. Both have bipartisan support and would pass easily.

Sadly, it appears Senate Republicans aren’t in a reasonable mood, preferring to fabricate an either-or conflict driven by ideological dogma. It’s a selfish strategy that might motivate voters to effect change in next fall’s elections.

With strong bipartisan support in 2003, the Legislature approved a bill enabling undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. The DREAM Act (HB 1817) is a reasonable next step that allows these students to compete for financial assistance.

Making it possible for qualified students of uncertain citizen status to pursue their higher education goals is a win-win for students and the state. It keeps smart young people in the Northwest, who came here as toddlers and consider Washington their home.

And it means those students – and eventually their children – will have fuller, more prosperous and productive lives. They will use fewer social services, have lower incarceration rates, pay more taxes and contribute more to our communities’ well-being.

But Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who chairs the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, is pitting the two bills against each other. She says the bill (SB 5318) that would reduce the waiting time for veterans and active service members to qualify for in-state tuition is her top priority.

We support legislation that stretches the education benefits of bright military service members who want to pursue higher education and keeps them in Washington.

But the bills aren’t incompatible. The Senate can pass both.

Bailey has a further objection to the DREAM Act. She argues that allowing immigrant students to compete for state need grants would increase the existing unmet demand.

That should be no problem for state lawmakers who have read and embraced the recommendations in the 10-year Roadmap prepared by the Washington Student Achievement Council. It’s a long-term education plan commissioned by the Legislature.

The WSAC is recommending the Legislature add a modest $16 million to the state need grant program for the fiscal year 2014-2015. That would provide financial help to an additional 3,800 students.

WSAC estimates there are 32,000 students in Washington who qualify for financial aid under the program who don’t receive assistance. Lawmakers could justify an an even larger appropriation as a wise investment in our state’s economic future.

There is strong public support for the Washington DREAM Act, and there are the votes in both chambers of the Legislature to pass it into law. It’s a good bill for the state.

If the DREAM Act fails to get a Senate vote, it will highlight the ineffective leadership of Sen. Rodney Tom, who says he supports the bill but may let petty partisanship triumph over the common good.

The Senate should give the DREAM Act a fair up-or-down vote, and let those who oppose it on ideological grounds do so at their own political peril.

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