Washington State House Democrats


Fuzzy Math: Four ways the Senate Republican higher education plan doesn’t add up

It’s been called “a shell game” by one editorial board. “Smoke and mirrors” by another.

Newspapers from every corner of the state have exposed some of the many problems with the Senate Republican budget plan. While Republicans try to take credit for saving higher education, the details buried deep in their budget prove otherwise.

1) “Students will see an average of 25% reduction in tuition” (Sen. Andy Hill, 3.31.15)

  1. That statement is false. The majority of Washington students won’t get relief from the Senate’s so-called “tuition cut.” Nearly 60% of Washington’s college students attend community college. The Senate “tuition cut” barely gives them any help; they’ll see a whopping $59 decrease in their tuition – less than the cost of a typical textbook.

So who benefits from the Senate plan? A student at UW will see a 29% drop in tuition. The Senate spends most of its higher education “investment” helping the families of students who already have the opportunity to attend four-year college.

2) Low-income, private college students take a massive hit

Cutting tuition has a real cost. The money to pay for those cuts must come from somewhere. The Senate Republicans slashed $75 million from financial aid to pay for their tuition cuts for others. This decision continues to leave 33,500 eligible students without access to the State Need Grant.

And for low-income students who attend private colleges like Gonzaga or Seattle University, their tuition will continue to increase while their financial aid drastically decreases.

The House budget, on the other hand, freezes tuition and expands financial aid – a much better way to increase access to higher education for low-income and middle-class students.

3) Rolling the dice on scholarships

The Opportunity Scholarship program is a public-private partnership that provides scholarships to low- and middle-income students who are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and health care. The state must match private contributions to this fund dollar-for-dollar.

The House investment of $60 million in Opportunity Scholarships will serve 5,700 more low-income and middle-income students than the Senate budget.

A few weeks ago, the program received a $20 million pledge from a private contributor. With this new pledge on the books, the state is required – by law – to match it. Because the Senate Republican budget is balanced on razor-thin margins, matching this contribution puts their budget in the red over four years.

The Senate gambled on this bet and lost.

4) High-quality education requires high-quality educators

After six years without cost of living increases and stagnating pay, our colleges and universities are having a hard time hiring and keeping the staff that bring these institutions to life. A cut in tuition sounds great on paper, but regardless of the price they pay for classes, students deserve high-quality education and that starts with fair compensation for faculty and staff.

The House honors negotiated contracts and gives higher education employees the compensation they deserve. The Senate offers an alternative plan that is not only illegal, it gives $67 million less to higher education employees than the House plan does.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

If we want to reinvest in Washington and higher education, we need to pay for those investments. The Senate Republican budget is full of unsustainable sleight-of-hand gimmicks; impressive on a bumper sticker, but empty rhetoric on closer inspection. The House budget is the only Legislative proposal that’s fair, fiscally responsible, and designed to meet the needs of the state.