The state Dream Act was only proposed “to continue this mantra that Republicans are racist,” state Republican Party chairman Kirby Wilbur said in a recent radio interview.
The much-debated House Bill 1817, which would make undocumented foreign-born students eligible for state need grants to pay for higher education, was essentially dead on arrival in the Senate despite winning ample bipartisan support in the House. One of the most outspoken proponents and sponsor was Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger.
But earlier this week, the GOP-led Majority Coalition Caucus included audio in its weekly podcast from a radio interview between Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Wilbur, speculating that the proposal was a Democratic political ploy all along.
“It should be obvious to anyone with an IQ above their waist size that these have been picked for their political impact,” Wilbur said on KVI 570 in Seattle. “It has nothing to do with caring and compassion, to continue this mantra that Republicans are racist.”
Bailey responded: “It is pretty obvious that it is political.”
In a telephone interview, Wilbur said he actually supports making undocumented students eligible for state need grants, but not if the money isn’t there. He said the attempt to include new students without addressing the funding issue is what makes the bill a political ploy.
“I support a version of this bill,” Wilbur said. “I’m not sure I support this version.”
Senate Democrats have attacked Bailey as well as majority leader Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, for not allowing the bill to come to the floor.
Bailey’s argument for not bringing the bill to a vote before the Higher Education Committee, which she chairs, is that it would add about 850 students to a program that is already unable to provide funding for an additional 32,000 students who are eligible. She said about 70,000 students receive money from state need grants.
“If these students were added to the pool that already exists of underserved students, then the only way those students would ever get financial aid is if they are considered and given preferential treatment above citizens of our state,” Bailey said.
The bill does not call for the state to give preference to undocumented applicants. In a speech on the House floor prior to a vote in March, Chandler said the intent of the bill is to allow students to compete for grants.
“Essentially in my view it says anyone that graduates from a state high school should be treated the same,” Chandler said just before the bill was approved 77 to 20.
Chandler did not return calls for comment on this story.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said in a telephone interview Friday that Bailey was twisting the facts about the bill.
“There is no carve out for undocumented students who have been here since they were kids,” Murray said.
The House-approved operating budget proposal provides an additional $100,000 in funding for the grant program, but only if the Dream Act is signed into law this year. If not, the proviso becomes void.
Rachelle Sharpe, director of student-financial assistance for the Washington State Student Achievement Council, which administers the grant program, said about one-third of students receiving the aid from 2011-2012 were new applicants. The other two-thirds were continuing recipients, she said.
Chandler and Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, both have said that the next step would be to press the Legislature to put more funding into the state need grant program.
Bailey also said the bill would cause a “ripple effect” encouraging undocumented students to migrate to the state.
“We do feel that it would continue to be a magnet to draw other students here,” Bailey said.
Portions of Wilbur’s and Bailey’s comments were later removed from the podcast apparently because they questioned the political motives of Democrats. Senate ethics rules forbid the hosting of comments impugning the motives of other senators on Senate websites.
In his interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic, Wilbur said the state party has not taken an official stance on the issue and that he was only speaking for himself.
“We have to educate these students by court order,” Wilbur said. “I don’t think it’s fair to say ‘Ok, you graduated from high school and we’re going to stop helping you now.’”