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Washington state Senate approves Dream Act

OLYMPIA – A bipartisan Senate easily approved extending the state’s college need-based grants to students who graduate from Washington high schools and don’t currently qualify because they are not legal residents of the country.

Called the Dream Act by Democrats and the Real Hope by Republicans, Senate Bill 6523 was unveiled with fanfare Thursday and pushed to the floor Friday immediately after its introduction and without a committee hearing. It adds $5 million to the state need grant and opens the aid to students who have been in the state at least three years and came to the country illegally with their parents but would otherwise be eligible for the aid.

The Senate measure is nearly identical to House Bill 1817, which passed out of the House on a bipartisan vote on the first day of the legislative session earlier this month. The measure expands state financial aid for college students in the country without legal status. The House version didn’t identify a funding source for the measure, but the Senate proposal allocates $5 million through June 30, 2015, from the state’s general fund to pay for the financial aid payments.

“The key to a good future is a good education,” said Republican Sen. Barbara Bailey, the bill’s prime sponsor.

But Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said that, despite the bill’s good intentions, it won’t solve the problem with long waiting lines for college aid. There are already some 32,000 students who qualify for state need grants but can’t get them. “It may help a few of them, but it’s not going to help all of them,” he said.

A bipartisan coalition beat back one attempt by conservative Republicans to narrow the scope of the bill, and it passed without changes on a 35-10 vote. Among Spokane-area legislators, Sens. Andy Billig and Mark Schoesler voted yes, Sens. Brian Dansel and Mike Padden voted no, and Sen. Mike Baumgartner was absent.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who was in the Senate wings after the vote, said it was “a clear delight” that the measure passed.

“What is real hope is a real Washington kid getting a real college education,” he said. “Any way that gets done is great. And it is going to get done.”

If the Senate’s version is passed by the House and signed into law, Washington would become the fifth state in the country to approve state financial aid for college students in the country illegally. California, Texas, New Mexico and Illinois have passed similar legislation.

The Senate also unanimously approved a measure Friday that allows students who are National Guard members or on active military duty, as well as their spouses and children, to pay in-state resident tuition rates. That measure also heads to the House for consideration.

Staff writer Jim Camden and Associated Press reporter Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.

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