In a surprising reversal, Washington’s Republican-led Senate on Friday took up and passed a version of the Dream Act that would allow the state to give financial aid to students who are in the country illegally.
The Senate version of the measure would provide $5 million to the State Need Grant program, covering tuition aid for about 1,100 students at state universities.
Republicans, who control the state Senate through a majority coalition with two centrist Democrats, had initially signaled they would not take up the Dream Act this year, citing other priorities. But on Thursday, state Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman Barbara Bailey said she would bring the bill up on Friday.
The bill passed her committee Friday morning, and the full Senate by a 35 to 10 margin on Friday afternoon.
That vote all but assures the bill will become law. The Democratic-controlled state House passed its version by a wide margin on the first day of the 2014 session. The two bills have only minor differences, making a compromise almost certain. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) supports the Dream Act.
“It is heartening that we now have a clear path to help more Washington students pursue their college dreams,” Inslee said in a statement Thursday. “We are now poised to take action on the Dream Act and remove that barrier for our aspiring citizens.”
Bailey said on Thursday that the Republican Senate decided to go ahead with the bill after ensuring it included enough money to provide aid to students in the country legally who were already on the wait list for financial aid, the Seattle Times reported.
Washington will become the 17th state to pass a version of the Dream Act. The state already allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at universities. Fifteen states have passed legislation, while an additional two, Oklahoma and Rhode Island, extended in-state tuition to immigrants through state Boards of Regents.
Washington will be the fourth state, along with California, Texas and New Mexico, to extend student aid to undocumented students. Arizona, Georgia and Indiana prohibit undocumented students from receiving in-state rates, while Alabama and South Carolina prohibit undocumented students from enrolling in post-secondary institutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.