When it comes to funding education, kindergarten through high school is the state’s top priority. And that’s why fully funding basic education is — as it should be — mandated by the state constitution.
Unfortunately, as the state has pumped billions of dollars of new funding into basic education to meet its obligation (as outlined by a state Supreme Court ruling), higher education has gotten short shrift — particularly community and technical colleges.
Funding for the state’s 34 two-year and technical schools must be a budget priority when lawmakers return to Olympia in January.
No, that won’t be as simple as cracks in the basic-education funding plan are becoming apparent. Even more cash will be earmarked for basic education to ensure that the needs of students are met. It’s going to be a gut-wrenching budget process.
Still, lawmakers need to accept that higher education is also a state responsibility. Providing adequate funding for programs at community colleges is critical to ensuring the state has a well-trained workforce.
Two-year schools such as Walla Walla Community College have proved to be a lifeline for Washingtonians looking for a cost-effective way to get a four-year degree or seeking training for a trade. Community colleges are also great places to be retrained when people need to change careers.
WWCC made a national name for itself in 2013 as one of the two best two-year schools in America for its record of workforce training and preparing students with skills necessary for emerging workforce demands. Its enology and viticulture, water management and wind technology programs were named specifically as innovative in training students for careers currently in high demand.
Yet, WWCC, like the other community colleges, is financially pinched now as the state — despite a record $50 billion in revenue to spend over the next two years — is struggling to fund basic education and other state needs such as prisons, law enforcement and social programs.
Since community college support isn’t mandated, those schools have to fight for what’s left.
Specifically, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges wants its faculty pay raises to be in line with K-12 public school teachers and funding for 5,000 more openings in high demand fields such as nursing, computer science and advanced manufacturing.
The request seems reasonable.
“I think about it as putting more money into Washingtonians,” said Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “What people want is to have a good job and to be able to launch themselves into a career pathway that will enable them to support themselves and their families.”
Exactly. And that’s what community and technical colleges do best. They need proper funding so they can do their jobs well, and as a result we will all benefit.