The Democratic-controlled Washington state House calls it the Dream Act. The state Senate, where minority Republicans have the upper hand, thanks to two crossover Democrats, calls it the REAL Hope Act, with REAL being an acronym for Real Educational Access, changing Lives.
Whatever the nomenclature, supporters call it a chance for undocumented students to get financial aid for college, a top priority for immigration advocates in this state. It passed the House last year but never got a Senate vote. This year, the House passed HB 1817 71-23 on the first day of the session; the Senate waited until late January before approving on a 35-10 vote its version, SB 6523, that successfully addresses shortcomings in the House bill. A bill with the key Senate provisions warrants final legislative approval and enactment into law.
Both bills will allow undocumented students brought to the United States as children to qualify for state need grants, and both apply to those students granted federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status. That move, implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012, affects about 2 million youths and young adults nationwide who meet certain age, residency and academic qualifications.
Neither bill guarantees the state need grants; the measures will allow students to apply for them. Lawmakers can only estimate how many of the students will actually receive the grants, and the Senate measure provides $5 million “or as much thereof as may be necessary” in extra funding to prevent the new students from bumping those who would have received grants under the previous rules. That is an important provision that allows us to support it. The money would come from the state general fund; the House bill doesn’t specify an amount or a funding source.
A separate Senate bill will expand eligibility to National Guard members and those on active military duty, as well as their spouses and children, to pay resident tuition rates. This provision allows those who have served their country a better shot at higher education.
On top of aiding military personnel and their families, the bills are aimed at those who were brought to the United States as children, went to school in this country and identify more with this country and its culture than with their parents’ home country. This state — and nation — already have invested resources in these students; the tuition provision will allow in-state talent to stay in this state and contribute to society down the road.
What the bills don’t address is a larger problem, one noted by Yakima state Sen. Curtis King, who voted for the Senate bill. Overall funding for higher education has taken a huge hit in the past half-dozen years as the Legislature grappled with the effects of the national economic recession. Tuition has skyrocketed, and more than 30,000 students qualify for state need grants but can’t get them. The Legislature needs to develop a long-term approach for dealing with this funding gap.
Assuming the differences are rectified, Washington will join California, Texas and New Mexico in extending student aid to undocumented students. As indicated by the lopsided votes, the proposals have bipartisan appeal. In addition to Republican Sen. King, legislators representing Yakima and Kittitas counties who supported the House bill are Republicans Norm Johnson, Charles Ross, Bruce Chandler and Judy Warnick.
From here, the House should go along with the Senate version, send it to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature and make the Dream/REAL Hope act a reality.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.
• The online version of this editorial has been updated to specify that a provision covering military personnel is separate from the REAL Hope Act.