DREAM Act gives us hope for other legislation

Democrats and Republicans may wrangle over what to call the bill that makes immigrant children brought here illegally eligible for financial aid to higher education. They may also squabble over which party can take credit for passing the legislation in an election year.

But the politics don’t matter to the thousands of smart, young students who came to our state as toddlers and consider Washington their home. What matters to them is a chance to compete for tuition assistance from the State Need Grant.

Thanks to a group of 10 Senate Republicans who voted with Democrats, these students, and eventually their children, will have fuller, more prosperous and productive lives. It’s the right outcome, and one that mirrors public sentiment.

The Senate bill allocates an additional $5 million to the need grant program. That’s far short of the $16 million recommended by the Washington Student Achievement Council and a mere pittance of the $140 million necessary to eliminate the program’s waiting list.

More than 32,000 eligible students were denied State Need Grants last year due to lack of funding. There’s no reliable estimate on how much that number will swell when children of immigrants become eligible.

Now that the Legislature has cleared the hurdle of whether they should be eligible at all, lawmakers should work toward a much larger incremental appropriation for the next biennium. It would be a wise investment in our state’s economic future.

What motivated the abrupt turnaround in the Senate Republican caucus remains a mystery to the public.

Just over a week ago, Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who chairs the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, said the Washington DREAM Act (House name) or Real Hope Act (Senate name) wasn’t a priority for her. She had pitted the financial aid bill against another that would reduce the waiting time for veterans to qualify for in-state tuition.

But, as we editorialized, the bills weren’t incompatible. The Senate could pass both, as it now appears they will.

Perhaps some senators in moderate districts, who face re-election this year, felt the will of the people. Whatever changed the minds of 10 Republicans, we applaud it.

Dare we hope that the Senate might apply such capacity for the common good to a transportation bill? We can only dream.