Sen. Barbara Bailey said Thursday morning that the Legislature is very close to agreeing to the details of a higher-education budget that would increase funding by 10 percent and freeze tuition for the next two years.
Bailey made her comments around the same time that other legislative leaders announced a tentative deal on the overall $33.6 billion two-year state budget.
The Oak Harbor Republican, who heads the Senate Higher Education Committee, said she did not think that the higher-education deal would take away tuition-setting authority for the institutions, meaning that their governing boards could still vote to raise tuition. But, she said, “we are hopeful we’ll have agreements on raising tuition” from the institutions.
Bailey would not put a dollar figure on the amount of higher-education funding, although she did say it was somewhere above 10 percent more than “maintenance level,” or the level the universities say they need to receive just to maintain services as-is. The maintenance level for 2013-15 is $1.04 billion, suggesting that the deal would allocate at least $104 million more for higher education.
Before the session began, the state’s six four-year institutions requested $225 million in new money, a 20 percent increase, and said they would freeze tuition if they received an increase of that size.
“This would be the first time in 27 years we’ve not had a tuition increase,” Bailey said. “That is hugely important for middle-class families in particular. From all the data we’ve been gathering, by the time you put tuition, student housing, fees and books and everything together, the average family can’t afford to send their child to college in this state without some kind of help financially, or going into debt.”
Bailey said the deal includes about $18 million to grow programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She said the additional money would stabilize the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program, which bases its payouts on tuition rates and is currently underfunded.
She also said that a controversial proposal to raise about $50 million by adding a 20 percent surcharge to international student tuition is “still being discussed,” although she noted that “there’s not been a warm welcome to that.”
Bailey said she fully expects a deal by Friday, and “we may have something by the end of the day today.” But she said things are in flux right now.
“Evidently, the jello has not stuck yet to the wall,” she said.