Dream Act change would be ill-timed -- Gazette.Net


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A tweak now would be mis-timed

For months, Maryland has been debating the Dream Act, which allows students, who cannot provide documents that they are in the country legally, to pay in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities.

After five years of attempts, the General Assembly passed the law, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed it, and opponents petitioned it to referendum. In November, voters approved the legislation, with 58 percent electing to enact the law.

Implementing the act has taken an unexpected turn. Because it focuses on high school graduates, the act doesn’t speak to high school students who may be enrolled in college courses. Montgomery College, which had been at the leading edge of the issue when it chose to ignore the legal status of its students, finds itself in a jam. The act requires colleges to collect the data, and high school students — because they are not yet graduates — now face higher, out-of-state tuition rates they can’t afford.

Eighty Montgomery County students could be affected, according to a story by The Gazette’s Jen Bondeson. Instead of paying $112 per credit hour, these students must pay the out-of-state rate of $314 per credit hour.

Some of the act’s supporters believe this is an unintended consequence, and they suggest that the General Assembly should revisit the legislation. Opponents say that proposal is far from a simple oversight and it would constitute an expansion of the benefit.

Lawmakers should not act, at least not this session. Instead, they should give supporters time to prove the advantages of the act. Assuming supporters are correct, the long-term economic benefits of the Dream Act soon should be manifest, and they’ll have a compelling argument to ease the tuition burden on undocumented high-schoolers.

In the meantime, scholarships could cover the excess expense without necessitating a change in the law. To reopen the law so soon after its narrow passage could invite a second referendum and further uncertainty.