Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wild first day of special session brings pleas from education and social service advocates

The story told by a 20-year-old Seattle Central Community College student perhaps best illustrates the points made by advocates for both education and social services at a boisterous public hearing Monday on the Governor’s supplemental budget proposal.
Jessica Foster told members of the House Ways & Means Committee she grew up making weekly trips to the food bank for groceries. The first home the family owned was provided by Habitat for Humanity. As a child, she received medical coverage under the state’s Basic Health Plan, but she has since been dropped and is now uninsured.    
However, Foster said she didn’t come to the hearing to tell the committee a “sob story.”  She also wanted it put on the record that she has a 3.7 grade point average in college and is one quarter away from earning an associate degree in elementary education. That will be the highest level of educational attainment anyone in her family has ever achieved.
Foster works full time to cover college costs not provided by student financial aid and scholarships. Even so, she said, she’s unsure if she’ll be able to afford the bachelor’s and master’s degrees that are her next steps toward an eventual teaching certificate in Washington.  
“I don’t want to be a millionaire, but I want to be a teacher who changes lives,” Foster said. Some of the social service programs that are now on the “chopping block” make it possible for people like her to strive for a better way to live, she said.
“By investing in K through 12 and higher education—community colleges especially—you are investing in your future because I am your future,” she added.
The all-cuts supplemental budget proposed by the Governor addresses a projected $1.4 billion drop in state revenue by reducing state spending another $2 billion over the remainder of the 2011-13 biennium. The reductions include a $160.1 million cut for public colleges and universities, and suspension of the State Work Study program for low-income students, saving about $8 million.  
The Governor’s budget director, Marty Brown, on Monday called the budget proposal a choice of “least-worst alternatives.”  To buy back some of the proposed cuts—including the reduction for public colleges and universities—the Governor has proposed a temporary half-cent increase in the state sales tax. The increase would have to be approved by either the Legislature or the voters.
Representatives of the state’s two-year and four-year public colleges and universities also spoke Monday against additional cuts to higher education. They said those reductions would further reduce access to higher education at a time when the state needs more highly educated workers to fill many jobs that currently go unfilled, even in today’s down economy.
They said additional cuts in appropriations would come on top of nearly a 50 percent reduction in state higher education funding since the recession began.  The new budget reductions would raise that to about 65 percent.
The additional reductions in state support could increase pressure on colleges and universities to raise tuition, further reducing affordability for many low- and middle-income students in Washington. 

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