Let’s keep the DREAM alive for all our students

As school superintendents, we are committed to educational excellence for all students. To this end, we are united with our colleagues in support of House Bill 1817, known as the Washington State DREAM Act.

If approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, HB 1817 would enable certain undocumented students to qualify for publicly funded financial aid for college, provided they meet the state’s low-income guidelines other students must meet.

The potential beneficiaries are bright young people, many of whom came to the U.S. with their parents while infants and toddlers. Today, increasingly we see these students serve as ASB presidents, quarterbacks of our football teams, JROTC commanding officers, physics club tutors and volunteers at our middle schools.

For them, there is no better incentive for K-12 academic success than the hope of postsecondary education, whether colleges, universities or trade schools. Conversely, denying students the opportunity of furthering their K-12 education benefits no one.

When students have hope of a quality education, the counsel and support of caring adults in and outside of classrooms, and financial assistance for college for those who need it, better grades will follow. This, more than anything, can help us eradicate what some refer to as “the achievement gap.” More accurately, it is an opportunity gap, created and maintained by adults who should know better.

Moreover, approval of HB 1817 is an important opportunity to ensure the future well-being of our economy. Today’s students — with the quality education they need and deserve — will be tomorrow’s business leaders, doctors, engineers, teachers, and skilled trades men and women. They are the ones we will depend on to give Washington a competitive edge in global markets.

On Monday, the first day of the 2014 legislative session, we were pleased with a decisive vote on HB 1817 in the state House of Representatives. In a significant display of bipartisanship, the House approved HB 1817, with 71 yeas and 23 nays.

We now urge Senate Majority Coalition Caucus leaders to show the same wisdom, compassion and urgency by bringing HB 1817 to the Senate floor for action. We understand there could be sufficient support among Democrats and Republicans to gain Senate approval.

Importantly, many previously undocumented students have obtained legal work permits through the federal Deferred Action program. This enables DREAMers who quality to live and work in legally in our state and nation. Thus, they are better able to repay the substantial investment made in their K-12 and college educations. Meanwhile, we continue to urge the U.S. Congress to approve the federal DREAM Act, providing a pathway to citizenship for these same students.

Finally, speaking on behalf of school superintendents and educators across the state, our goal in K-12 education is to ensure that every child — regardless of income or immigration status — has the opportunity to be successful in K-12 and postsecondary education, the workplace, and society. They are the future stewards of our communities.

The state House of Representatives demonstrated strong bipartisan support in approving HB 1817. The Senate should act swiftly to do the same. The DREAMers would benefit. We all would benefit.

Carl Bruner is superintendent, Mount Vernon School District. Kip Herren is superintendent, Auburn School District.