Legislation giving college financial aid to students brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age has found a pathway to being voting on in the Washington state Senate.
Key Republicans, including leaders of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, announced Thursday they have dropped opposition to the House proposal to grant aid and now are backing two bills – one that provides in-state tuition for veterans and State Need Grants to immigrants who meet certain criteria.
Republican state Sen. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor led other members of the Senate Majority Caucus in announcing their support Thursday for the legislation.
“This is a reform that will raise access to higher education and change lives,” Bailey said in a statement about both bills. Bailey, who chairs the higher education committee that would hear the legislation, said just two weeks that a Dream Act bill passed by the House on the opening day of session in Jan. 13 would not move this year.
Her announcement set off a chorus of positive statements from Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers in the Senate and House. Ricardo Sanchez, founder of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project that has advocated for the legislation helping immigrants, complimented Bailey, calling the bill “an act of courage and compassion.’’
Bailey could not say how many students can be helped, but she said the Republicans are putting “real dollars behind a real promise, both to our veterans and their families and start addressing the 32,000 students waiting in line for the chance to go to college."
In rejecting the bill two weeks ago, Bailey had said her caucus had higher priorities this year and that she was more concerned about the military tuition bill she’d been unable to pass previously. She also objected to adding more students to a State Need Grant program that already has a waiting list of 32,000 that now will grow.
But her new bill includes $5 million – a fraction of the roughly $140 million needed to erase the backlog - and she said the money commitment by her caucus changed her mind.
In making her announcement on Senate Bill 6523 (aid) and Senate Bill 5318 (veterans), Bailey said the Senate will vote them off the floor Friday. It appears the measures will not receive hearings, but the issues are not new for lawmakers to consider.
Standing with Bailey were Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom of Medina, a Democrat, and Republican Sens. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, Joe Fain of Auburn, Andy Hill of Redmond, Steve Litzow of Mercer Island, Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee, and Steve O’Ban of Lakewood (O'Ban spoke in favor of the veterans bill).
The move by the Senate leaders to allow a vote may take away a campaign tool Democrats could have used during this fall’s election in some suburban swing districts to pry seats from the Republicans and regain a majority. It also could shift the debate to how much money the state puts into financial aid.
Rep. Zack Hudgins, a Tukwila Democrat who sponsored the Dream Act bill that passed off the House floor, had put out a new measure on Monday in a bid for compromise. That included language granting in-state tuition to veterans who have not been in the state long enough to qualify, and Hudgins said he welcomed Bailey’s two bills.
“It would be wrong to pit these good students against our brave veterans. So I applaud the Senate for vowing to pass both measures and not creating a false choice between kids and soldiers,” Hudgins said in a statement.
A group House Democrats belonging to a new Latino Legislative Caucus – including Rep. Luis Moscoco of Mountlake Terrace, Monica Stonier of Vancouver, Brady Walkinshaw of Seattle and Lilian Ortiz-Self of Mukilteo – also put out a joint statement. It said, in part:
“The House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act on the first day of the legislative session with strong bipartisan support. Regardless of which side of the aisle you stand on, we can all agree that every hard-working student who calls Washington home should have the opportunity to better themselves and their community. We commend the Senate for responding to our call for action and agreeing to pass the DREAM Act. With Governor Inslee prepared to sign the legislation, we are now closer than ever to giving every Washington student a fair shot at the American Dream.”Dulce Siguenza, a South Seattle Community College student, spoke at Bailey's announcement, saying that financial hardships caused her to leave the University of Washington. "I know I belong there and know I am capable of so much more. And this bill would give me that opportunity ..." Siguenza said. "We promise you we will make you guys proud, because this bill will give us the opportunity to reach our goals and give back to our community later on.''
Hudgins said that about 800 to 900 immigrant students already are eligible for in-state tuition under past legislation, and that is the estimate of how many immigrant students might seek aid once new financial-aid law is passed.
Although Bailey was unable to say how many of those immigrant students could be covered by the new money, Senate Republican Leader Schoesler acknowledged they would be put in line with others waiting for need grants.