In our view
State Sen. Lloyd Smucker began his second term in office with a pleasant surprise: His own version of the Dream Act.
No, Smucker did not turn into a liberal upon his re-election. He did, however, show a sense of humanity and understanding that often gets overlooked when people talk about politicians.
Smucker, a Republican, is sponsoring the PA Dream Act, legislation that would allow the children of illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, who have established residency in the state, attended high school in Pennsylvania for at least two years and graduated or received a GED, to attend any of the 14 state universities or four state-related universities at in-state tuition rates.
The legislation, which is still being drawn up and thus does not have a number, would also allow those students to be eligible for low-cost loans and state grants through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
Smucker said he was prompted to introduce the legislation after Maryland voters approved a similar referendum and after listening to high-achieving students in his district who told him they wanted to attend college here but could not afford to pay out-of-state rates they were being assessed because their parents were here illegally.
Citing the tax dollars that were used to pay for the students' scholastic educations, Smucker said: "We've invested in these students for years. They're hard workers who have run into a roadblock. This is an economic investment."
The bill is similar in concept to one that has been in place in Texas since 2001. That bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Perry with the overwhelming support of the Legislature, attracted criticism during the Republican presidential debates. The law, and Perry, are now under attack by tea party activists in Texas.
Tuition for Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities is set by the Board of Governors for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The established out-of-state tuition rate is 250 percent higher than the in-state rate.
That's a formidable obstacle, even at those schools in the state system that offer tuition discounts for non-residents.
For example, Cheyney, Clarion and Edinboro universities charge all domestic out-of-state residents 150 percent of in-state tuition. Slippery Rock University charges 150 percent for non-residents with a grade-point average of 3.0 or better, and East Stroudsburg charges a similar rate for "high-achieving non-resident students" who intend to major in science or technology. Shippensburg charges 150 percent of state tuition rates for students transfering from five specific Maryland community colleges and 175 percent for out-of-state students whose SAT scores are 1,200 or higher.
Only three state-owned universities -- Millersville, Bloomsburg and West Chester -- do not discount tuition for out-of-state residents.
The discounts come with a caveat: The tuition must cover the costs of the education.
Smucker's legislation is being offered at the same time President Barack Obama is introducing legislation to enable undocumented aliens a path to citizenship.
Smucker said the reaction to his legislation has trended slightly favorable, but even he recognizes that the bill faces a difficult path. The fact that Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is one of five co-sponsors may help.
Smucker's proposal would make Pennsylvania the 13th state in the nation to give the children of in-state illegals a higher education hand up. It's a common-sense approach that recognizes these students for what they are: Pennsylvania high school graduates whose achievements qualify them to attend a public university in their state at in-state rates.
"We've invested in these students for years. They're hard workers who have run into a roadblock. This is an economic investment."
Sen. Lloyd Smucker