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Washington free college program inches closer to Inslee’s desk

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A plan to provide guaranteed financial aid to tens of thousands of college students statewide was passed by the Washington State Senate Saturday, and now will begin to move through the House.

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The proposed plan would convert Washington’s State Need Grant into “Washington’s College Promise” grant. Currently, the State Need Grant provides aid to about 3/4 eligible students who apply, leaving thousands of students on a financial aid waiting list.

The bill was first introduced on Jan. 18. From there, it made its way through through a handful of committee hearings, amendments, and then a final 27-18 vote that sent it to the House.

During the deliberation period, Senate Republicans attempted to introduce an amendment that would have set a requirement for students to hold a minimum GPA of 2.5 to be eligible. Senate Democrats eventually argued for, and passed, a 2.0 GPA requirement.

“In today’s economy, a college education is more important than ever as a path to middle-class security, and an educated population is crucial to keep our economy humming,” the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Guy Palumbo, said in a recent news release. “I’m proud that we can spare lower-income students from having to take out ruinous loans or being locked out of college altogether.”

Under this bill, students whose families operate at an income less than 50 percent of the state median would qualify for a Washington College Promise grant.

“Governor Inslee’s College Promise proposal will support all students who want to attend college to go, regardless of their financial ability to pay tuition,” said Washington Student Achievement Council Chair Maud Daudon back in January.

If enacted into law, students would be eligible beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year. It would also represent a significant victory for Gov. Inslee, with the measure acting as a key part of his 2019-2021 budget plan.

The program would need roughly $103 million of the $280 million the governor set aside for higher education in his proposed budget, and would benefit an additional 18,000 eligible students who remain unserved by financial aid.

The bill was first read on the House floor on Tuesday, and will next head to the College and Workforce Development committee for further deliberation.

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