OLYMPIA — A key Washington state lawmaker wrote in a Friday editorial that state funds are too scarce to extend need-based college aid to illegal immigrants, dimming the prospects for the measure supporters call the Washington Dream Act.
Republican Sen. Barbara Bailey, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, wrote on a pro-business website that the state makes too many promises it can’t afford to keep, and that the measure, if enacted, would likely amount to another.
“The state’s financial assistance program needs to be looked at more closely before eligibility is extended to a new group,” Bailey wrote on Washington Focus.
“In order to set good policy, we need to spend more time studying the issue and evaluating the future financial impact,” she continued.
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Bailey also pointed out that 74,000 students received State Need Grant assistance in the 2011-2012 school year, but 32,000 otherwise qualified applicants were turned away because of funding shortages. Under the legislation, about 800 illegal immigrants would be added to the pool of eligible applicants.
To qualify for the program, a student’s family income must be below 70 percent of the state’s median family income, currently $57,500 for a family of four.
At a hearing on the measure held by Bailey’s committee Thursday, proponents said extending college aid to illegal immigrants was the decent thing to do and that it would make for a stronger and more prosperous state going forward. Opponents countered that people who came here illegally — whether as adults or as children — should not be rewarded for having done so.
The highest-profile member of Bailey’s committee, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, of Medina, said he supports the measure.
Tom’s vote would give the measure a likely majority on the panel. But Tom, a Democrat who is caucusing with Republicans, said it is Bailey who will determine if it gets a committee vote.
The measure passed the state House earlier this month by a vote of 77-20, with Democrats united in support and Republicans split.
Supporters of the bill said they were disappointed to learn of Bailey’s position.
They point out that Bailey recently co-sponsored and voted in favor of a measure to expand access to the same pool of State Need Grant money to students at the online Western Governor’s University.
That measure passed the state Senate earlier this month and advanced from the House Higher Education Committee on Tuesday. Neither that bill nor the one Bailey opposes would address funding shortages in the program.
“It’s confusing that she would consider it an unfunded promise for one population and not for another,” said Toby Guevin, lobbyist for OneAmerica, a group advocating for the measure’s passage.
Bailey did not return phone messages seeking comment.