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Friday, August 7, 2020

State legislature set to expand financial aid to undocumented students

No time to read? We get it. Here’s a breakdown:

  • The state Senate passed a bill to open more state financial aid programs to undocumented students.
  • Bill will also ensure current DACA recipients can continue to be eligible, regardless of what happens to DACA.
  • Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) voted against. Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) supported.
  • It will have to go through the House, which has a similar bill, before it can be signed into law.
  • The legislature will likely end up pushing one of the bills through.
  • Western and the AS support the legislation, say it will help undocumented students access and stay in college.

By Katja Tunkkari and Asia Fields

State financial aid programs may become more accessible for undocumented students in Washington, after the state Senate passed a bill Wednesday, Jan. 24, with a 34-11 vote.

The bill opens up state programs like the Washington State College Bound Scholarship and Washington State Opportunity Scholarship to undocumented students, who do not meet requirements for federal student aid.

It would also ensure current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients will continue to be eligible for these programs, regardless of what happens to DACA.

Western’s administration strongly supports the bill, said Becca Kenna-Schenk, Western’s director of government relations.

“If enacted, this legislation will help hundreds of current and future Western students have better access to higher education by ensuring that Washington high school students from low-income families, regardless of their immigration status, will be eligible for state financial aid programs,” Kenna-Schenk said.

This legislation is a priority for the Associated Students as well, AS Legislative Liaison Rosa Rice-Pelepko said over email.

“This bill would allow more aid opportunities, which is a factor linked to the success a student will have in completing higher ed,” she said.

“If enacted, this legislation will help hundreds of current and future Western students have better access to higher education…”

Becca Kenna-Schenk, Western’s director of government relations

The bill will have to go through the House of Representatives and is now in the House Higher Education Committee, which recently approved HB 1488, a similar bill.

The Western Front reported last year on the impact HB 1488 would have for some undocumented students at Western.

Kenna-Schenk said both bills are proceeding through the legislature now, but it is likely one will be selected, as they are similar. If the House approves HB 1488, it will have to go through the Senate.

Either way, Kenna-Schenk said she is excited to see this legislation progressing. Once one of the bills is passed by both the House and Senate, it will be sent to the governor.

“It was really the Senate that was the hurdle in previous years, so we’re feeling pretty confident that the bill will become law,” she said.

Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) voted against the bill, after his amendment to make it only apply to current Washington residents was not approved. Ericksen said he thinks the bill will create an incentive for undocumented people to move to Washington, according to Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) chair of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, supported the bill.

“It was really the Senate that was the hurdle in previous years, so we’re feeling pretty confident that the bill will become law.”

Becca Kenna-Schenk, Western’s director of government relations

The College Bound scholarship is a need-based grant for students whose income is at or below 65 percent of the median family income. Applicants pledge to maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher throughout high school and receive no felony convictions.

The Opportunity Scholarship is for students whose income is at or below 125 percent of the median family income pursuing high-demand majors such as science, technology or health care.

Both scholarships are accessible through the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA).

The current bills from both the House and Senate intend to finish the work previous legislation started. In 2003, the legislature passed House Bill 1079, which granted access to in-state tuition to undocumented students who met certain requirements, such as living in the state since three years before graduating. In 2014, the Washington REAL Hope Act gave those undocumented students access to some state funding.

So while some undocumented students can currently apply for the State Need Grant (which is underfunded), other state programs such as the College Bound and Opportunity scholarships have additional requirements that are difficult for some undocumented students to meet.

The current bill passed by the Senate addresses this by aligning WASFA eligibility requirements and simplifying the renewal process.

 

Illustration by Hunter Smith.

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