Brian M. Rosenthal, Seattle Times, January 31, 2014
State Senate Republicans announced Thursday they will vote to allow financial aid for students who were illegally brought to the United States as children, a stunning reversal that paves the way for passage of a top Democratic priority.
Higher Education Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who 18 days ago described the so-called state “Dream Act” as not a priority, said she expects a version of the bill to pass through her committee and the Senate floor Friday.
It already passed the House and has Gov. Jay Inslee’s support.
“This has never been about immigration,” said Bailey, flanked by supporters, in an afternoon news conference. “It’s about making sure that we take care of the students that live in our state.”
The announcement served as a jolt in a quiet legislative session, surprising many in the Capitol.
But advocates said moderate Republicans, especially floor leader Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, have quietly been pushing the immigrant bill for months.
Bailey and other GOP leaders said they decided to support the proposal after ensuring it would include enough money to avoid hurting the chances of thousands of students already on the waitlist for state financial aid.
The Republican version, Senate Bill 6523, would include $5 million for the State Need Grant program to offset the expected caseload increase.
About 1,100 more students would receive aid, according to Rachelle Sharpe of the Washington Student Achievement Council, which administers the grants.
About 74,000 students currently receive State Need Grants, and an additional 32,000 eligible students were turned away last year because of a lack of funding.
The governor had called in his State of the State address for the Senate to approve the proposal. But up until Thursday, that looked unlikely.
When the Democrat-controlled state House voted 71-23 for its version of the bill on the first day of the session, Senate Republicans signaled that it would not move in their chamber.
But the bill introduced Thursday by Bailey and five other members of the GOP-led Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, including Majority Leader Rodney Tom, was virtually identical to the House version.
The only difference was that in the Senate bill, which supporters called the REAL Hope Act, spelled out the cost.