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June 27, 2013 at 7:44 AM
State Legislature nearing a deal, at least on education
State lawmakers are said to be in general agreement about the way forward for the state’s higher education system. When it comes to Olympia, its never real until the votes are counted but this Seattle Times story foreshadows a possible budget deal. Naturally some lawmakers are quoted as saying yes ‘there’s a deal,’ while others vehemently deny any knowledge of an agreement. (That’s politics.)
I’m hearing that at least on K-12 and higher education, lawmakers are in agreement over funding. The deal that I’m hearing about would provide about a billion and a half to the K-12 system. The state would provide maintenance level funding for Washingtons’ six public universities and one college plus its 32 community and technical colleges. After years of significant disinvestment by the state in higher education, maintenance level funding is a welcome shift. It essentially keeps the institutions whole in terms of operating costs. Again, after years of steep cuts that threatened access and quality, this is a positive sign.
There’s more to the deal. Lawmakers are said to be agreeing to a 3 percent tuition buy-back. Schools will get the additional money in exchange for a zero tuition increase. Lawmakers have been concerned for some time about the skyrocketing costs of higher education. There is well-founded fear that middle-class students are being priced out of a college education, as this Seattle Times story and this one by higher education reporter Katherine Long point out. But it was difficult to avoid tuition hikes in the past because higher education relies on operating money from just two sources: the state budget and tuition. The former has to dramatically increase in order for lawmakers to lower their reliance on the latter.