Today I had a hearing on SB783, the DREAM Act, in front of the Senate Education Committee. The legislation makes certain students eligible for instate college tuition regardless of their immigration status. The bill creates the “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act,” otherwise known as the Dream Act. The legislation requires any higher education institution in Missouri that receives state funding to provide instate tuition to students who meet the following guidelines:
1) The student lived with his or her parent or guardian while attending high school in Missouri;
2) The student attended school in Missouri for two years and graduated from a Missouri high school or received the equivalent of a high school diploma;
3) The student entered the United States before the DREAM Act was signed into law; and
4) An individual who is not a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident presents a signed affidavit to a higher education institution stating he or she will file an application to become a permanent resident at the earliest opportunity.
The hearing was well attended by immigration advocates and self-described DREAM Activists from across the state. Four organizations provided testimony in favor of the legislation -- no one provided opposition testimony. In addition to the organizations testifying in favor of the bill (MIRA, MNEA, SEIU & Catholic Charities), several students from the KS/MO DREAM Alliance traveled to Jefferson City to support the bill.
Imagine the frustration and heartache of students who work hard to learn and excel in their studies only to find they cannot continue their education after high school because the cost of college is totally unattainable.
I've talked to high school counselors who have a difficult time keeping kids in school and engaged, when the promise of college is not waiting upon graduation. With no work documentation and no money for school, thousands of talented kids fall through the cracks after high school graduation, rather than earning the education they deserve.
The most high-profile example of the issue was highlighted a few years back in a great WIRED article called "La Vida Robot" about 4 high school kids in Arizona who beat MIT in a national robotics championship, but had no hope of attending college after high school graduation. The article is well worth your time.
During the hearing I presented testimony about 10 other states that have similar laws including Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois. A federal version of the bill has also been introduced in Washington, D.C., with bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.
This is the second year I have filed the DREAM Act. We are a nation of immigrants, all of whom came here to pursue the American dream. Why would we make it more difficult for new immigrants to have the same opportunities that our grandparents or great grandparents enjoyed when they came to this country? These children were brought here as kids, through no fault of their own. They have excelled in their schools and are ready to become our next generation of tax-paying scientists, doctors and lawyers.
The next step for the bill is to get enough votes to advance it out of the Education Committee. It is unlikely to do so this year, as the majority of the committee members don't have a strong voting record when it comes to basic rights for immigrants and refugees. Even so, today's hearing was a great opportunity to tell the story of these incredible kids and we will use this as the baseline education year as we try to advance the bill in the future.