When state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, remained on the fence about a measure granting undocumented students eligibility for state need grants at the beginning of the 2014 legislative session, Ricardo Sanchez of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project decided some personal stories could help win her over.
He brought several undocumented students to Olympia, where they urged her to support the bill. They spoke about possibly not fulfilling their dreams solely because their parents brought them into the country illegally.
Bailey’s staff said the students’ stories contributed to the higher education committee chairwoman’s decision to introduce a Senate version of the House’s Dream Act, this one called the Real Hope Act.
“Once she finally decided to do this, she really embraced it,” Sanchez said Thursday at Heritage University in Toppenish. “She said, ‘I’m not looking back. If I lose my seat, I lose my seat. But I did the right thing.’”
Almost a month after the full Legislature approved the Real Hope Act, which has been signed by the governor, some local education officials at Heritage looked back on its passage as a necessary step in the state’s pursuit of better career opportunities for all students.
The group of Heritage administrators, Yakima Valley superintendents and advocates was at the Toppenish campus as part of a forum relating to the recently signed legislation and took questions from the media a few hours before the event.
“It really does level the playing field,” said ESD 105 Superintendent Steve Myers. “It gives all of our students a better (prospect) for the future.”
Zillah Superintendent Kevin McKay and Grandview Superintendent Kevin Chase both said their districts were relieved the measure passed, as it could positively impact their immigrant-heavy schools. Both speculated the percentage of undocumented students in their districts could be 20 percent, but no data are available to verify their estimate.
“They’re going to get established, have good jobs, good homes and then have children here,” Chase said. “You’re breaking a cycle that has been here forever and ever. By breaking that, you will make a big difference in this valley.”
It was expected that possibly 200 parents and students would attend the forum, where speakers discussed what happens next, who qualifies and took questions from the public.
Beginning April 1, undocumented students who meet certain requirements can apply for the grants that could be used in the fall. The Real Hope Act added $5 million to the need-grant pot to expand service to an estimated 1,100 students.