Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D).(Photo by Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a leading Democratic candidate for governor, on Thursday proposed the creation of a $4 million state fund to provide low-interest loans to help families of undocumented immigrants pay for higher education.

As envisioned by Brown, the Dream Fund would build upon a law, passed by the legislature in 2011 and upheld by voters in a 2012 referendum, that allows students from those families to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities.

“While these students now have better access to higher education, paying for college remains a struggle, as the children of undocumented immigrants don’t have access to federal student loans that allow so many of our students to enroll,” Brown says of the plan.

He unveiled it an event Thursday in Silver Spring at which he also launched a group to mobilize support in the state’s Latino community for his gubernatorial ticket with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D). The group is being dubbed the Amigos de Brown-Ulman committee.

Brown faces Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) in the June primary.

Eligibility for the Dream Fund would be similar to qualifications for in-state tuition under the Dream Act, according to Brown.

It would be open to students who have graduated from a Maryland high school and whose families have filed income tax returns for the previous three years. Students would be required to enroll in a community college for two years before transferring to a state institution of higher education.

Upon graduation, his plan says, students would be expected to repay loans “in accordance with industry standards.”

After being fully capitalized at $4 million, the Dream Fund would be self-sustaining as loans are repaid with interest, according to the plan.

Although the initiative was applauded by supporters attending Thursday’s event, it was panned by House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (D-Baltimore County), who called it “an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.”

“He’s buying votes in Montgomery County,” Szeliga said. “What else could you call that?”

Brown said the proposal, which he thinks is the first of its kind in the country, is meant to“ensure there is fairness and equity” among college-bound students.

When passed by the General Assembly in 2011, the Dream Act drew opposition from some in the legislature who argued that it would reward illegal behavior and draw more undocumented immigrants to the state. Opponents used a provision in the Maryland Constitution to launch a petition to force a vote on the law in a statewide referendum.

In 2012, Maryland voters supported the Dream Act at the ballot box by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. It was the first time such a law had been approved by voters at the state level.