Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 legislative session gets under way today

The 2011 regular session of the Washington Legislature got under way today and will continue this week with a full schedule of hearings on higher education topics.
Maintaining quality and affordable access to higher education in the face of continuing fiscal challenges for state government will be a major challenge this session.  State appropriations for higher education have been cut 17.5 percent this biennium and further reductions are expected in 2011-13.
As they did in this biennium, legislators may allow the state’s two- and four-year institutions to raise tuition in the 2011-13 biennium beyond the current 7 percent ceiling to help offset the effect of continuing budget reductions.
Institutions, faced with record student demand, have responded to budget cuts by eliminating academic programs, increasing class sizes, reducing student services and other measures. With the number of new students seeking postsecondary education expected to grow in 2011-13, institutions will be faced with new and increasingly difficult choices.
The first matter of priority for the session will be to close the books on the current biennium by passing a 2011 supplemental budget that closes the gap created by a projected $1.1 billion revenue shortfall. In a special session in December, legislators took the first steps necessary to close this budget gap, but more work will be needed to fully close the gap.
The Legislature also will need to address the challenge of meeting a $4.6 billion projected revenue shortfall for the 2011-13 biennium, which begins July1.
Under a budget proposal announced by the Governor, overall higher education appropriations during the next biennium would be reduced an additional 4.2 percent. This projected reduction factors the mitigating effect of tuition increases of 11 percent at WSU, the UW and WWU, 9 percent at TESC, CWU, and EWU, and 10 percent at the community and technical colleges. This afternoon (Monday, Jan. 10), a House Higher Education Committee was holding a work session to discuss the economic and societal impact of higher education in Washington.   
On Wednesday at 8 a.m., the HECB and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges will provide an overview of the types of students seeking higher education today to the House Higher Education Committee.
At 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Don Bennett, HECB executive director, will present an overview of the HECB’s responsibilities in the areas of performance and accountability and conduct a more detailed presentation on recent work on transfer and articulation and technology transformation for Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.
On Thursday, the House Higher Education Committee has scheduled a work session on higher education funding and budget priorities, including a presentation on the Governor’s proposed budget. 

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