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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

November 19, 2014 at 5:00 AM

UW students prepare to fight to keep tuition from rising

The University of Washington’s most politically astute students are gearing up for a major lobbying effort next year in Olympia to try to keep tuition from rising in 2015-16. They kicked off the effort Monday night at the UW with Gov. Jay Inslee as their dinner speaker.

The major focus of next year’s legislative session will be boosting K-12 funding, both because the state is under court order to pour more money into public schools, and because voters this month approved an initiative to reduce the number of students in public-school classrooms.

Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee

That’s made higher-education advocates nervous about the possibility of significant cuts to the state’s colleges and universities — cuts that would surely usher in major new tuition increases.

On Monday, the Associated Students of the University of Washington held their annual lobbying dinner in the Husky Union Building on campus, with more than a half-dozen legislators and the governor in attendance.

Inslee talked about going broke as a student at Stanford University, transferring to the University of Washington and squeaking through without having to take out loans. “I want to prevent your generation from being saddled with multi-decadal debt,” said Inslee, who noted that the average debt borne by the graduate of a Washington four-year college is now $22,560.

He floated the idea that a fee on carbon pollution — one of his signature initiatives for the coming year, although one that has little chance of passing — could be an “elegant solution” to solving the state’s education funding crisis.

As a Democrat, Inslee has been talking up the need to increase revenue for more than a year now. He described how state revenues are declining rapidly as a percentage of the economy, and called the state’s tax structure “a Model-T Ford in an Internet age.”

But state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, addressed the students from a different point of view.

She, too, talked about the impacts of college debt, and described how her son is still paying off his college debt 20 years after graduating from law school. “One of the things debt brings with it is the inability to get on with your life,” said Bailey.

But Bailey said she believes it is possible to reduce college tuition this year “without substantially changing our tax structure.”

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