The governing body for the state’s 34 community and technical colleges says it will try to convince legislators not to cut higher education in the upcoming legislative session.
The group includes current and former community colleges, such as Highline.
The nine-member State Board for Community and Technical Colleges met recently to hammer out its legislative priorities. The state is facing a substantial budget shortfall because of declining economic activity due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Nonetheless, the board decided it would push legislators to not cut higher ed once again.
“The reason we have to protect operating-budget funding for our students and colleges is because the state is facing a revenue shortfall of $2.4 billion for the next biennium,” said Laura McDowell, director of communications for the state board.
The Legislature writes a two-year budget plan in odd-numbered years. The state board makes a budget pitch to state legislators on behalf of the member colleges, including money for specific projects.
“Whether or not a specific college project is funded depends on where the project lands on our ranked list of priorities. The more funding the legislature appropriates for our capital budget request, the more projects we can complete on the list.”
Highline has a request in for $3 million to redesign the Welcome Center for Student Success. It is 27th out of 39 projects on the list.
The funds for the proposed college projects will come from the capital budget, one of two budgets involved in the 2021 session.
The other is the operating budget.
“As the name implies, the operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of state government and services for the public,” McDowell said.
Through these budgets, the board will continue to advocate that the state’s colleges get the funding they need and avoid cuts as much as possible, she said.
“Our priority for the operating budget is to protect our students and colleges from budget cuts. Higher education is one of the few areas of state spending that is not protected by the constitution or by legal mandates, so it is often on the chopping block when budgets get tight,” McDowell said.
“The Legislature made some very important investments in the budget that is now underway, and it’s important to not backtrack on those investments in the next budget, especially since colleges and universities never fully recovered from the great recession.”
One idea to get the overall budget in a healthier spot for future projects is through equitable economic recovery.
“To us, an equitable economic recovery ensures all Washingtonians have the opportunity to land a good job that supports themselves and their families,” McDowell said. “Our colleges are the primary entry-points to higher education for people who are most affected by the COVID-19 economy: people who are low-income, people of color, young adults, and those without a college certificate or degree.”
“These Washingtonians, of all ages and backgrounds, depend on us to learn the skills they need to get better jobs with higher incomes or to transfer to universities,” McDowell said.
As a whole, the board will continue to fight for funding for the students and colleges they represent, and against more cuts, McDowell said.
“We are constantly advocating for funding for our students and colleges at both the state and federal levels,” she said. “And we will continue to do so.”