There's been a lot of action already this week in Olympia on the education front.
Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved two measures suspending voter initiatives regarding education.
I-732, approved by voters in 2000, called for cost-of-living pay hikes for teachers. I-728, also approved in 2000, called for money to be provided by the state to reduce class size. Currently there is no state mandated limit to the number of students in a class room or to student-teacher ratios; the only limits in place are determined by individual districts.
The Office of Financial Management estimates that the state will save more than $1 billion over the next two years by suspending the initiatives. The bills have yet to be approved by the State Senate.
Meantime, a bill aimed at allowing regents at the state's public universities to raise their own tuition rates is moving ahead at the State Capitol.
Both the Senate and House have voted to approve HB 1795 which affects tuition at the UW, WSU, WWU, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and Evergreen State College. This is on top of the double digit increases already approved by the legislature. The bill now heads to the Governor.
Democratic Representative Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, told the Associated Press the measure would be offset somewhat by an infusion of about $100 million in financial aid. That does little for those who don't qualify as low-income.
Mike Bogatay, executive director of the Washington Student Association, warned the AP that some prospective students might fall through the cracks.
"There are a lot of students in a situation where they just don't know whether they're going to be able to go," Bogatay said.
Students at the UW have seen tuition skyrocket by more than 30-percent over the past two years. In-state undergraduate students were paying about $6,800 in tuition in the 2008-2009 academic year. They're now paying about $8,700. That figure could climb to more than $11,000 under current tuition-increase projections and even higher if regents exercise their authority under HB 1795.
Lawmakers say each of the measures would help fill the gap as they try to cover a projected $5 billion shortfall in revenues over the next two years.