PSBJ Editorial, Nov 21, 2014
Washington’s looming legislative session will focus heavily on education.
The McCleary ruling will force lawmakers to devise a plan to fully fund K-12 education. They cannot stop there. Lawmakers can make a big statement by also bolstering the State Need Grant program.
The grants provide tuition assistance to students from the state’s lowest-income households to be used at public and private colleges throughout Washington, including community and career colleges.
It’s a great program that’s allowed countless students to attend college in its 43-year history, but it’s underfunded. Last year, almost a third of the more than 100,000 students eligible for the grant were shut out due to lack of funds.
The Student Achievement Council, a state agency, has drafted a modest, reasonable proposal to close the $137 million funding gap: Dedicate $16 million annually through 2023 to fully fund the program. That small amount will cover an additional 4,000 students each year.
Last year, the state set an audacious goal that was widely praised at the time: By 2023, 70 percent of the population should have some form of post-secondary education, a 20 percent increase from today. That won’t just happen without help.
As the council notes, eligible students who can’t receive the grant have higher loan debt and are more likely to work while attending school, which can “adversely affect academic progress and success.” If, that is, they attend at all.
Funding the State Need Grant program is a small but important step in shoring up Washington’s cash-strapped higher-education system.