You should consider yourself engaged in ongoing negotiations with the legislature, particularly if you believe affordable higher education allows our young people to get ahead, improves our economy and creates more informed citizens.
Higher education programs need strong advocates to protect and increase their funding because the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision has led the Court to mandate the legislature increase funds for promises it’s made to K-12 education.
Here’s a checklist of Higher Education programs to protect and improve.
Protect the state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program that manages investments from families by guaranteeing those investments will pay college tuition when a student is ready to enroll. State actuarial specialists annually review the increased premiums necessary to guarantee the fund is solvent. GET has over $2 billion in investments from more than 154 thousand accounts helping over 34,000 students.
GET gets attacked periodically. Last February the new Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom called it ‘a Ponzi scheme’ and proposed shutting it down because he believed it was underfunded by $631 million. He backed off when the Senate Chair of the Higher Education Committee and the state’s actuaries said he was misinformed and GET is well funded.
In December 2013, Michael Young, president of the University of Washington, repeated the Ponzi scheme statement, despite being a Professor of Law with experience in public service and diplomacy. It’s frightening to read such injurious misinformation coming from the president of our state’s most distinguished university.
“GET is not like a Ponzi scheme, not at all,” said state Treasurer Jim McIntire. “I would hope that … he misspoke.”
College Bound, a program for students in 7-8th grade, also needs protection. It provides financial aid for “income eligible students who sign up in the 7th or 8th grade to work hard in school, stay out of legal trouble and successfully apply to a higher education institution when they graduate,” according to the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) website.
College Bound invests in youth who can earn higher incomes and pay more taxes while immediately reducing juvenile delinquency that causes extra expenses for social workers, law enforcement, justice and incarceration.
“It’s a phenomenal goal for our students,” Gene Sharratt said to Rufus Woods, editor of the Wenatchee World. Sharratt is president of the Student Achievement Council and former Superintendent of the NCW Educational Service District. Sharratt said legislators strongly support the Council’s goal of fully funding College Bound.
Another top priority for the Student Achievement Council affects students immediately by increasing funds for the State Need Grant Program that helps the lowest-income undergraduate students. Students must have an income less than 70 percent of the state’s median income, which for a family of four is $57,000 and a single student is $30,000. The program assists students earning certificates or degrees from eligible institutions in Washington, ranging from the International Air & Hospitality Academy to public and private one, two or four year colleges.
Student requests for funds were greater than funds available in 2012-13 and requests could increase even more if a new group of students becomes eligible.
The state House passed legislation to include financial aid for undocumented students. Students must have graduated from high school or received a GED and been accepted into a qualified college institution. Leaders in the State Senate have declared the House Bill low priority because of the McCleary mandate and an already underfunded Need Grant program.
The Student Achievement Council’s legislative priority is to begin closing the funding gap with a modest increase of $16 million that would provide aid for 3,800 more students in FY 14-15. Please support that amount as a minimum and commit to a long-term effort to close the gap with investments that give the state a payback.
State legislators allocate limited resources, but it’s smart investing to insist programs that give our dedicated students hope and help be given a priority that allows legislators to confidently declare they are defending our society’s promise that this state is a land of opportunity.