On Jan. 31, the Washington State Senate voted 35-10 in favor of Senate Bill 6523, which would allow undocumented students to be eligible for state financial aid. The bill is entitled the Real Hope Act [Real Educational Access, Changing Lives] and now awaits a vote by the state’s House of Representatives.
The Real Hope Act is the Senate’s own version of the DREAM [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors] Act and was approved with 10 Republicans and more than two-thirds of the Senate’s Democrats voting “Yes.” It was renamed the “Real Hope Act” by the Senate Majority Coalition, in which the Republicans are now the majority.
On Feb. 18, the House of Representatives approved the Senate's bill. It must now be signed by Governor Jay Inslee, who’s expressed adamant support of the bill, in order to take effect. If Inslee were to sign the bill into law, Washington will become the fourth state to allow financial aid to undocumented students. California, Texas and New Mexico already have such laws.
The House of Representatives already passed a similar bill, House Bill 1817, on the first day of regular session, Jan. 13. The House’s bill didn’t identify a source of funding, while the Senate’s bill proposes an allocation of $5 million from the state’s general fund into the State Need Grant Program by June of 2015, according to section three of the Senate bill.
“That’s kind of unheard of,” said Associated Students Vice President for Governmental Affairs Kaylee Galloway. “That the House passed a bill on the first day of session. Essentially from that day until recently, students had been continuing advocacy for the DREAM Act. We were seeing it being blocked in the Senate.”
This year’s Associated Students Legislative Agenda, approved in December, highlights making state financial aid accessible to students who are undocumented, giving the issue a priority status along with renovations to the Carver Academic Facility and dedicating revenue to higher education.
“We’ve run several DREAM Act Days of Action, in the hopes to promote student awareness, as well as to show legislators that students support this [bill],” Galloway said.
“It’s been an issue that we’ve been advocating for at least two years now.”
During AS Viking Lobby Day in Olympia, University President Bruce Shepard expressed his support of making financial aid available to undocumented students. Shepard said with the nation’s growing and diverse work force, it only makes sense to level the playing field for students who’ve grown up in the states but are still undocumented, so the U.S. is able to compete with other growing markets.
Shepard said, “For many of us who have privilege, it should be called the ‘wake up and smell the coffee act.’”
The state’s Latino population has reached 11 percent, with Washington’s undocumented residents contributing a total of $327.7 million in taxes annually. The population of Latino high school students in Washington has grown by 492 percent since 1986, according to a report by One America and the Washington Student Association.
“A lot of the arguments we were hearing from people who were not in support of the DREAM Act was the fact that the State Need Grant is already underfunded,” Galloway said. “The argument was, ‘Why add more students to the pot of eligibility when in fact we can’t fund the students who are already eligible?’”
Yet Sen. Barbara Bailey said the Senate decided to move the Real Hope Act forward after making sure that students that are already U.S. citizens and on financial aid waiting lists would be covered by the bill’s $5 million allocation into the State Need Grant Program.
If the bill were to be signed into law, undocumented students - also referred to as the 1.5 Generation by the American Immigration Council - [1.5 refers to the trend of the undocumented immigrant youths receiving socialization in the US. Thus, making them in between first and second generation] would be eligible for the State Need Grant if they received a diploma from a Washington high school, have lived in the state for three or more years, provide an affidavit planning to become a permanent resident when eligible and work to acquire U.S. citizenship.
Last year, more than 100,000 students applied for the State Need Grant, with only enough funding for 74,000 of them, according to KUOW News. The Washington State Need Grant Program began in 1969 and is based on median family income and public tuition costs.
A study conducted by the Washington Student Achievement Council shows that student financial need has dramatically increased, with a 65 percent increase of Free Applications for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA’s] completed over the past five years. The study also found that students in need who didn’t receive the Student Need Grant were less likely to be successful because of the implications of financial stresses.
AS Vice President for Diversity Mayra Guizar said she didn’t expect the bill to get this far. She called it, “a real win for students and a real win for Washington State.” Guizar said the passing of this bill will hold positive results for every student in Washington.
“It will give students that real shot and opportunity to actually be part of [higher education]. In reality, the state has already funded them throughout high school. Why not continue to give them the shot to pay in-state tuition?” Guizar said. “They have been here, they deserve that.”
The extension of financial aid to immigrant American youth is also necessary to position them for economic success and strengthen Washington’s competitive edge in the world economy, according to section one in the original DREAM Act, introduced in 2001.
“It’s not going to solve all the problems,” Guizar said. “We still need to make higher education more accessible. Tuition is still high. But this is definitely a step in the right direction.”