Matt Crowley/The AS Review

As Washington state looks at a potential $4.5 billion budget shortfall, Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed yet another cut for higher education across the state, this time in the range of $84.6 million.

The cuts come as part of an across-the-board 6.3 percent slash that looks to affect every agency in the state. For Western, that means $3 million less in the budget this year and the potential loss of major programs.

“It looks like 2011 is going to be as bad as 2009 was, but it is also compounding the cuts that were made in 2009,” said Morgan Holmgren, associate director for the AS Representation and Engagement Programs. “Every student in Washington state is going to notice cuts after this next biennium, and they probably already are noticing those cuts.”

The cuts mark four straight years of underfunded education budgets, and Holmgren said if students didn’t notice the immediate effects then, they will this year.

“Most students are noticing that it is harder to get extra spots in classes and that classrooms are more packed than they were two years ago,” said Holmgren. “Financial aid is going to be under pressure in the next legislative session and may end up being cut as well.”

At 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 7, in the Performing Arts Center plaza, Western United to Defend Education, a coalition of local non-profit organizations, veterans groups and AS clubs, will hold a rally for the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education.

The rally will feature multiple speakers from both on and off-campus groups to “inspire students to become active in legislative activities,” said AS Vice President for Governmental Affairs Byron Starkey. He hopes that actions taken by students after the rally, like contacting their representatives and joining on-campus clubs, will have more of an effect than the rally itself.

“The overall goal is to be a forum to educate the student community about the budget cuts and the cuts to higher education in general,” said Starkey.

The REP, new to the AS this year, is one of the major catalysts behind the rally at Western, along with the AS club Socialist Alternative. Besides helping organize the rally, the REP has aided in registering over 1,200 student voters, more than any other university in the state.

“I see the Day of Action as an opportunity for students across the country to demonstrate and bring attention to the cuts that our education system is facing this year and has faced over the past couple of years,” said Holmgren.

The AS and all participating bodies hope that getting the word out about rallies like Day of Action will keep students involved, informed and engaged, especially those who might not be aware of the cuts in the first place.

A state ballot initiative, titled I-1098, would help higher education recover some of these funds, but not directly. Starkey said the initiative, which would raise taxes and bring money directly to education, would likely not include higher education on its list of benefactors. Instead, K-12 schools will receive money that might keep them from taking additional funding from the education budget, leaving more for colleges and universities across Washington. Regardless, Holmgren says the initiative is not the end-all solution.

“It is clear that even if 1098 passes there will still be cuts and tuition increases; the initiative just can’t raise enough money to cover up this current revenue shortfall,” he said.

Starkey believes there might be a problem with the distribution of funding as well. Although community colleges in the state are looking at over $30 million in cuts themselves, the costs are much smaller compared to universities.

“Right now, actually, we’re getting funded per student, as far as state support goes, the equivalent to community colleges. So even though it takes more to educate a student here, we’re not getting the same funding,” said Starkey.
Holmgren believes the state should be doing more to protect what he feels is an “essential and public good.”

“It is important for students to stay informed about what is going on in politics and to share their perspective,” said Holmgren. “Even if I don’t agree with everything that is said at the rally I strongly support the basis for what they are saying.”