The most compelling argument in favor of the so-called Dream Act is that it is unfair to penalize the children of undocumented immigrants. The legislation, which would allow some of the children to pay cheaper, in-state tuition at Maryland institutions of higher learning, is Question 4 on the ballot. Still, many questions remain about the cost of enacting the tuition break.
A University of Maryland, Baltimore County study released earlier this month says the act could benefit state and local governments by $6.2 million annually through increased income, sales and property tax revenue from a better educated work force. But opponents argue that the accounting in the report is speculative and that replacing out-of-state tuition with in-state tuition for several hundred or more students could cost as much as $44,000 per student over four years. Eleven states have similar Dream Act laws, but itís hard to glean the fiscal impact on Maryland using the other statesí experiences. A spokesman for the California State University system, for example, said the price tag for the 3,600 students who had requested a nonresident tuition waiver under that stateís law would translate into $40 million annually in forgone revenue had they paid out-of-state tuition.
If nothing else, the debate over Marylandís Dream Act points to the need for the federal government to step up and develop a comprehensive, fair immigration plan that can address issues such as citizenship and residency. By extension, states such as Maryland then would know what to charge immigrants for tuition. A vote ďagainstĒ Question 4 will allow more time to bring clarity and equity to the matter.