Two bold decisions by leaders at opposite ends of the educational spectrum raise the bar on what the public should expect from educational institutions and those who lead them.
In the first instance, Washington State University’s Board of Regents approved a 2 percent tuition increase at WSU for next year. It is a bold move considering the state Legislature has not agreed upon a budget and it is not certain how WSU will fare financially. The Times Editorial Board has opposed cuts to higher education budgets because they threaten quality and access at these institutions but are also usually followed by steep tuition hikes. To make a pledge on tuition that is independent of whatever the Legislature does, WSU President Elson Floyd assumes a continuation of the tuition-setting authority granted state universities in previous legislative sessions.
“This is really our attempt to announce to the public, and most importantly to students, what our tuition will be this fall,” Floyd said in a statement. “As a consequence of our semester system, the delay in developing a final state budget places us in a very difficult time frame.”
Different area of education, but similar context led the Highline School District in South King County to announce recently that it is guaranteeing free, full-day kindergarten to all students next year. Washington has long frustrated families by funding only half-day kindergarten, leaving districts to charge tuition for the second half of the day. Full-day kindergarten in the Seattle Public Schools will cost parents $2,720 next year. Yikes!
Charging parents for what should be a part of a free, public education has led to inequities between students whose families can afford full-day kindergarten and thus were more prepared to enter first grade and children who did not have that opportunity.
The Legislature has committed to funding full-day kindergarten for all students by 2018. And lawmakers are working to reverse the disinvestment in higher education that spurred the steep rise in tuition in recent years.
That’s all well and good. But I’m delighted by the bold steps taken by Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield and WSU ‘s President Floyd. Both have been around long enough to know that nothing is certain in Olympia. Enfield and Floyd stepped up for the students and families they serve.