Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Senate supplemental budget plan includes no new cuts for higher education

The Senate Ways & Means Committee chair’s 2012 supplemental budget proposal announced Tuesday would maintain appropriations for public four-year and community and technical colleges at practically the same levels they were in the original 2011-13 biennial budget.
Although that original appropriation was 25 percent below the amount needed to maintain programs at 2009-11 levels, the leveling off of higher education budget reductions will no doubt be seen as good news by many.
The House budget proposal released last week cuts $30 million and $35 million respectively from the four-year and two-year sectors, but adds back $14 million for STEM enrollments and increased engineering degree production. None of the add backs for these high demand fields are included in the Senate budget, though $3.8 million of existing funding for the University of Washington and Washington State University is dedicated for more engineering degrees.
In a key change from the original proposed House budget, the version reported out of committee and pending on the House floor removed the $4.4 million STEM degree incentive grants that would have been administered by the new Student Achievement Council that is expected to replace the HECB in July. The House budget instead adds STEM funding to the four comprehensive institutions. Since the Senate budget does not make cuts no redirection of funding is included either.
Under the Senate proposal, no additional cuts are taken from student financial aid. The Senate directs $100,000 to the Washington State Public Policy Institute to conduct a longitudinal study of the State Need Grant (SNG) program to determine the extent to which this program has increased access and degree attainment for low-income students.
The House budget reduced SNG by $10 million but retained funding for all other programs at the same level as the biennial budget, including State Work Study. The only change in the House budget reported out of committee from the original was $50,000 added to study and develop financing recommendations for the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), which is already on the books with no means of funding the principal to make such loans.
The Senate proposal includes $1 million in additional funding to perform the functions spelled out for the new Student Achievement Council. The House budget proposal increased funding by $600,000 over the current HECB funding level.