Dream Act deserves a vote

The state Senate’s Higher Education Committee used curious reasoning to deny financial aid to a small but promising group of future citizens who want to further their education. State lawmakers should resurrect House Bill 1817 and write it into the 2013-2015 biennium budget.

The measure would extend need-based higher education aid to low-income high school graduates who do not have legal residency, but are on a pathway to citizenship. Dubbed the Washington Dream Act, because it mirrors President Barack Obama’s executive order to implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, it would assist students brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

As Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, said in voting for the bill that passed the House with 77-20 bipartisan support, “People will seek this nation out from all over the world. They want a life of opportunity. These kids, I want them to someday go to Cornell, to be a state lawmaker or more.”

But Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, refused to bring the bill up for a vote.

Bailey said the Washington State Need Grant is underfunded, but the Senate’s budget proposal expands the state’s need grant by $19.4 million. But the cost to include about 700 undocumented students – some of whom were brought to our state as babies and who are Washingtonians to their core – is estimated at only $3.5 million.

Bailey also argued the Legislature should do more studies before extending the state need grant to new groups. But then she voted to give access to students of the new online Western Governors University.

Cynics have reason to question these rationales.

The Washington Dream Act has attracted wide support from business, higher education and state Republican party Chairman Kirby Wilbur. It deserved a vote in committee.

During the upcoming negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate budget proposals, we hope lawmakers will see the logic of treating all graduates of our public school system the same.