By Douglas F. Gansler
6:00 AM EST, November 5, 2012
If you believe in the American promise — that hard work leads to opportunity — then you should support the Maryland Dream Act.
The American promise rewards us with a real opportunity to build a better future for ourselves and our children — a real shot at the American dream — no matter where we started out in life, provided we apply ourselves and pay our taxes. It is the promise our country makes to us when we make a promise to contribute to our country.
Core to that promise is our public education system, which empowers children of all backgrounds to achieve at high levels and graduate ready to compete in the American workforce and give back to the country. Without that schooling, many children would be put at a disadvantage when they later seek to become income-earning, taxpaying adults.
We as a society have long understood that all children who grow up on American soil, including those who are undocumented, should have the right to receive a full and free K-12 education. A generation ago, the Supreme Court wrote that doing so advances our Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and enables undocumented children to grow up to "lead economically productive lives to the benefit of us all."
Today, when the college degree has replaced the high school diploma as the ticket to an economically productive life, we need to recognize that our investment in all children cannot end at the 12th grade. To keep the American promise in today's economy, to enable the children of taxpaying families to turn their years of hard work as students into economic opportunity, we need to invest in higher education for our students. And as with K-12, we need to do this without regard for immigration status.
At the state level, we have already made this investment in Maryland students who were lucky enough to be born in the United States or born to American parents by offering them reduced tuition rates at our public colleges and universities. But we have not made this investment in Maryland students who were born elsewhere and brought here as young children, and have not yet become permanent residents. The Maryland Dream Act is our state's way of responsibly extending that investment to these students — students who did not choose to come here illegally but who did choose to work hard enough to graduate from our high schools — in a manner that ensures that the higher education promise already made to our state's American-born students will not be broken.
Let's be clear about what this investment is and is not. First, it is an investment only in students who have demonstrated a commitment to Maryland, not any student who simply steps foot in the state. The Act requires students to have attended a Maryland high school for at least three years and received a high school diploma or its equivalent before being eligible for in-state tuition at a Maryland community college, and it requires them to have earned at least 60 credits at a state community college before being eligible for in-state tuition at one of Maryland's four-year higher education institutions.
Second, the Dream Act is an investment only in students who have invested in Maryland, not in those who are simply looking for a handout. Students' eligibility for in-state tuition is conditioned on their family filing Maryland taxes, from the time they are in high school through the time they graduate college. It is also conditioned on proof of registration with the Selective Service System, where required.
Third, the Dream Act is an expansion, not a substitution, of opportunity. No Maryland student's spot at a state college or university will be taken by someone else as a result of this Act. And no in-state enrollment availability will be reduced by the new in-state tuition eligibility.
In short, the Maryland Dream Act offers access to in-state tuition to all Maryland students, regardless of immigration status, but only if they have first pledged to better themselves, pay their fair share, and contribute to our great state. By rewarding Maryland students for what they're achieving, not for where they were born, the Act ensures a good return on our investment in Maryland children and equips them to compete in today's economy.
Supporting Question 4 is not only right, but fair and economical. And in voting to support it, you are helping all Marylanders better fulfill the American promise.
Douglas F. Gansler is attorney general of Maryland. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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