Bringing the DREAM Act to Pennsylvania

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

State Rep. Tony Payton, Jr. recently introduced a piece of legislation that he is calling the DREAM Act for Pennsylvania. Payton’s bill, like the embattled federal DREAM Act, would allow undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state rates for college tuition.

Under current law, undocumented students are not considered Pennsylvanians regardless of how long they have resided in the state. As a result, they are forced to pay more expensive out-of-state tuition costs, which for many students puts a college degree out of reach. The new bill seeks to make higher education affordable to all Pennsylvania residents, regardless of immigration status.

To qualify for in-state tuition under the proposed bill, undocumented students must meet several strict residency requirements:

  • students must show that they have attended a Pennsylvania high school for at least three years and received a diploma,
  • students must provide an affidavit stating they they will apply to become permanent residents, and
  • students (or their parents, if they are dependents) must also show that they have paid state income taxes for three years prior to college enrollment.

Students and their parents must also agree to continue paying state income taxes while enrolled.

The bill, introduced on June 20, is waiting in committee until the House reconvenes in September. If passed, Pennsylvania will become one of 13 states to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students. DreamActivist Pennsylvania is collecting signatures for a petition in support of the bill.

The bill, however, has already provoked strong criticism from representative Daryl Metcalfe, a longtime advocate for the apprehension and deportation of undocumented Pennsylvanians as well as the revision of the 14th Amendment. While Metcalfe’s campaign against the "illegal alien invaders" in our midst may appear extreme, there are some practical implications that lawmakers must take into account. If the bill is passed, state colleges will be required to provide in-state discounts to anyone who attended PA schools in the past – even if they are no longer living in the state. The additional cost of out-of-state students could prove to be a burden on an already beleaguered budget.

But at the heart of the issue are the undocumented students currently attending Pennsylvania schools, many of whom were brought to this country as small children. "They grew up Americans. They show civic pride. They have American values. This legislation will simply allow them to pursue a higher education at an affordable cost," Rep. Payton stated at a press conference.