Last week when Tim Eyman’s I-1053 was declared unconstitutional there was much cheering and rejoicing across the state of Washington, not least through the halls of Facebook and Twitter. Many of these voices were students at our universities, who have seen more than 1.4 billion cut from our state higher education system since 2009, increased debt, and less accessible forms of financial aid because of the increased use of the State Need Grant and cuts to work study. While work study survived its proposed suspension last year, the current program serves 2/3rds (that number just keeps on popping up doesn’t it?) less students than just a few years ago.
As stated on Crosscut last election season:
For higher education, cuts in state funding are directly linked through the supermajority requirement to shrinking financial aid and skyrocketing tuition that have been so cruel to ordinary families and their children. That’s because when taxes can’t be adjusted under the supermajority regimen, the only alternative is greater reliance on tuition and fees not subject to the chokehold. The result for many young people is doors slammed shut to higher education and for businesses a slender and under-prepared workforce Most agree that these are a very bad, very shortsighted directions.
In fact, recently a poll was released which shows that voters in Washington “overwhelmingly support public higher education and want to see funding for the state’s colleges and universities increased”. Not only do students who have seen universities become less accessible and affordable want to see more money for higher education, put their parents, friends, and families do as well. As Rep. Ross Hunter stated in his legislative update yesterday, “Higher education is one of the areas at greatest risk in our budget process this year”, and this is precisely because the legislature is unwilling to raise revenue to fund higher education and its other commitments.
This is why trying to reinstate the 2/3ds supermajority plan into Senate parliamentary rules is an attack on our Washington colleges and other services that students need to succeed, because, having to beat back a projected 2.3 billion dollar deficit, either tuition will be raised, or services that some students rely on to succeed, like childcare, will be cut. When our new economy needs a highly educated workforce from all backgrounds, this is not the way to adapt.
Students are celebrating the Supreme Court ruling. But unless the legislature intends to use the door that has been opened to genuinely fund education, to fund it more than just in name, to make the words “protect affordability” (because our education system has become anything but affordable) ring true, then our victory is hollow, and we have let Tim Eyman succeed in turning the clock back on our shared society.