THE state Senate higher-education chairwoman has squandered a golden opportunity to help some of Washington’s most promising high-school graduates continue their education.

House Bill 1817, known as the Washington Dream Act, would allow low-income, high-school graduates without U.S. legal residency to apply for Washington’s State Need Grant to help pay for college. It passed the lower chamber March 13 with strong bipartisan support, 77-20.

Many of these students were brought to the United States from other countries by their work-seeking parents through no fault of their own. Those who have hopes of attending college face daunting challenges, including record tuition rates and no access to financial aid.

Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Barbara Bailey offered a public hearing on HHB 1817, but the Oak Harbor Republican refused to schedule a vote. The bill died before the April 3 cutoff for policy issues.

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State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, says at least 30 of 49 senators willing to vote for the bill and send it to the governor’s desk.

State Republican party Chairman Kirby Wilbur publicly supported the act and provided cover for House Republicans who supported the bill.

Bailey recently called the State Need program an “unfunded promise.” She wrote that further studies are necessary “before it’s extended to new groups.”

The money shortage is real, but the latter point invites cynicism. HB 1817’s advocates point out Bailey voted this session to allow students of the online Western Governor’s University to access the same fund.

If Bailey and other Senate Republicans can’t summon the political will to do something this year to help undocumented students, they must try again in 2014.