Editorial: Keeping the Dream Act alive

In this May 21, 2013 file photo, supporters In this May 21, 2013 file photo, supporters of the New York DREAM Act hold photos of undocumented students who are not eligible for college tuition assistance during a rally at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

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The New York Dream Act was regrettably rejected by the State Senate Monday in a surprise vote held one day before supporters were to travel to Albany to lobby for its passage.

But that doesn't mean the dream of access to college tuition aid for people brought into the country illegally is dead. The act, and $25 million to fund it in 2015, are in the Assembly's budget plan. So it will be on the table when the governor and Assembly and Senate leaders get down to the high-stakes horse trading in search of a budget deal before the March 31 deadline.

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The Senate vote was a charade. It served the needs of Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein, the head of the Independent Democratic Conference that controls the Senate with Republicans. Klein had been taking heat generally for failing to push Democratic priorities to the Senate floor, and specifically for failing to get a vote on the Dream Act. He answered his critics by engineering Monday's vote on one of his party's top legislative priorities.

Bringing the Dream Act to the Senate floor also provided political cover for Republican senators. It gave them the opportunity to vote against extending access to the state's Tuition Assistance Plan and its tax-free 529 College Savings Program to people here illegally who attended high school in New York and applied for legal status. Lamentably not one member of Long Island's all-Republican Senate delegation voted for the measure that fell two votes short of Senate passage.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said last month that he would sign the act if it passed and expressed disappointment yesterday that the Senate "denied thousands of hardworking and high-achieving students equal access to higher education and the opportunity that comes with it."

When budget negotiations get serious, Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver must do what it takes to keep the dream alive.

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