When she was in the eighth grade, the student—now a senior at Kent-Meridian High School—signed up for a state scholarship program the Legislature had just created.
The College Bound Scholarship program allows middle-school students from low-income households who maintain good grades, stay out of trouble and graduate from high school to receive a scholarship to a Washington college or university.
But there is a caveat that the Kent senior and possibly hundreds of others like her may have failed to take note of at the time. To obtain the scholarship they will also need to apply for federal financial aid. And to apply for that, they need a valid Social Security number, which as illegal immigrants they do not have.
With graduation looming, many are finding College Bound, as well as other public financial aid and many private scholarships, out of their reach.
Advocates for these students, already eligible for in-state tuition, want to make a push this legislative session to allow illegal-immigrant students to receive state financial aid—resurrecting the debate about what role, if any, states should play in helping undocumented immigrant students financially.
Craig Keller, who heads Respect Washington, a group of citizens working to discourage illegal immigration in the state, said taxpayers should not be burdened with educating these children—especially during tough economic times.
“Illegal-immigrant children have benefited richly from a free education in the U.S.,” he said. “The government doesn’t owe them or anyone else—legal or not—a college education.”
In the years since the Legislature launched College Bound, nearly 93,967 middle-school students have signed up, according to the Higher Education Coordinating (HEC) Board.
The first group—almost 16,000 who applied during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years—will graduate from high school this year.
At the time, the Legislature set aside $7.4 million to pay for the program. The HEC Board estimates that amount will provide scholarships to eligible students through the school year that ends in 2014.
LEAP, instrumental eight years ago in getting the Legislature to approve in-state tuition for illegal-immigrant students, is urging school boards to pass resolutions in support of legislation to allow these same students to qualify for state financial aid.
Three states—California, New Mexico and Texas—now provide financial aid to illegal-immigrant students.
Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, D-Seattle, said she supports the same approach for Washington but acknowledges it’s unlikely such a measure would make it through the current Legislature: “Our budget situation makes that almost impossible right now.”