In our great nation, from the first day of pre-school we are taught that if you work hard and never give up, you can do anything in America. Sadly, for a growing number of kids in this country, the American Dream does not apply.

Each year, as many as 65,000 high school graduates have their dreams of higher education shattered by an unfair system that ignores their good grades and hard work. These kids can be found at the tops of their classes, in schools all across the country, and are as American as you or I. They meet state residency requirements and many have never known another state or country, yet they are forced to pay out-of-state or international tuition rates because they are undocumented. These rates are much higher than in-state tuition, and effectively prevent them from going to college.

Fortunately, legislation was reintroduced in both the House and the Senate that will help. Just last week, I proudly joined veteran "DREAMers" Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) in reintroducing the American DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Minors) Act. The Dream Act will help to modernize our education system, so that students, who have grown up in the United States and studied in American schools, can attend college just like their peers and finally become "formally" American.

Under the American DREAM Act, qualified students would be eligible for temporary legal immigration status upon high school graduation, which would lead to permanent legal residency if they attend college or serve in the military.

Each state must enact tuition equity legislation in order to take full advantage of the federal DREAM Act.  Thus far, only ten states have already done so, including Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah; legislation is currently pending in Colorado.

As a founder and Superintendent of public charter schools serving at-risk and immigrant youth in Colorado, I saw firsthand how daunting and discouraging applying to college can be for undocumented youth. I also saw how quickly their lives and livelihoods went sour without the hope of a college education. Now, as a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, I am reminded of the struggles I saw in Colorado and I am driven to work with my colleagues and the Obama Administration to right this wrong. Our nation wants and needs these hard working young Americans who offer so much to our country.

In these tough economic times, building an excellent public education system that provides each and every child with the opportunity to succeed is the best investment that America can make.  In order for our nation to thrive in a global economy, we need to prepare our children -- ALL our children -- with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete, succeed, and contribute to the American economy. Passing the DREAM Act and tuition equity legislation in state legislatures is critical to achieving this goal.

I feel that educational opportunity is a right, not a privilege. Yet all too often, the doors to opportunity are shut for students based purely on where they were born, with no regard for their years of hard work and success. Access to higher education is the key to both individual success and to our nation’s economic growth and prosperity. We cannot afford to waste talent and deny dreams. We need the DREAM Act.