Filing Week Passes; Competitive Election Season Ahead

Last week was Filing Week- the one-week filing period for candidates- at the Washington State Elections Division and county election offices. Hundreds of candidates filed for 364 offices ranging from the U.S. Senate and Governor to statewide offices and legislative seats.

The results of Filing Week indicated a high turnover in statewide offices, the congressional delegation and the Legislature. Almost twenty-five candidates filed for open seats in the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and State Auditor offices alone. In addition approximately twenty candidates are in the running for open seats in the 1st and 6th U.S. House Districts and the new 10th District. Finally there is a slew of new candidates running for the state legislature, with nearly two dozen incumbents leaving the state House and Senate.

This Monday marked the final day for candiates to withdraw and the final list of candidates is now official as of Tuesday.

The next step is Washington’s Top Two Primary on August 7. Primary ballots will go out to voters by July 20.

Romney Releases Education Plan

Yesterday likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released his education plan, A Chance for Every Child: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education, that outlines several broad themes related to K-12 and higher education.

The plan for higher education, A New Vision Of Affordable And Applicable Learning, recognizes the importance and value of the nation’s higher education system but expresses concern regarding the current direction of higher education in the United States.

Romney identifies a handful of challenges for higher education that must be addressed. Among the challenges is the position that federal funding is leading to an increase in tuition which in turn is increasing student indebtedness. In addition while traditional models of higher education are important, “other models of advanced skills training are becoming ever more important to success in the American economy, and new educational institutions will be required to fill those roles”.

In response to these challenges, Romney’s plan proposed reforms in the following areas:

  • Strengthen and simplify the financial aid system by consolidating duplicative and overly complex programs in the U.S. Department of Education and focus the Department’s work on giving students and families with financial need the information they need to make informed decisions;
  • Invite private sector participation instead of excluding it by reversing the Obama Administration’s implemenation of direct lending and return to bank-based lending; and
  • Replace regulation with innovation and competition by encouraging market entry of new education models, emphasize skill attainment and support research and development.

House Higher Education Holds Work Session

Yesterday the House Higher Education Committee held a work session in Seattle. Transitions and partnerships between multiple sectors of education and industry were the focus of presentations to the Committee.

The Committee heard from two different panels that focused on transitions to higher education and within higher education. The first panel focused on transitions to higher education with an emphasis between key transition points from K-12 to postsecondary education. The second panel concentrated on transitions within higher education focusing on transfer and articulation as well as prior learning.

The work session closed with a discussion on the partnerships between higher education and industry. The panel highlighted technology transfer partnerships at the University of Washington and workforce training partnerships through Washington’s community and technical colleges.

Joint Committee Looks Ahead to Report on Impact Tuition-Setting Authority and Opportunity Scholarships & Expansion Program

The Washington Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) met yesterday to begin work on a report that will not be finalized until 2018.  The intention of starting now is to ensure that the data needed to complete the analysis is in place over time in order to meet legislative intent.

The focus of the presentation to the Committee was on the proposed scope and objectives of the report which will result in an audit of the impact of tuition-setting authority to public, baccalaureate institutions (HB 1795) and the creation of the Opportunity Scholarships and Opportunity Expansion program (HB 2088). 

Specifically the Committee will look at the impact of institutional tuition-setting authority on student access and affordability as well as on institutional quality.  In addition the report will evaluate institution’s compliance with specific provisions in HB 1795. Among those provisions:

  • Changes in undergraduate enrollment, retention, and graduation by race and ethnicity, gender, state and county of origin, age, and socioeconomic status;
  • Impact on student transferability, particularly from Washington community and technical colleges;
  • Changes in time and credits to degree;
  • Changes in the number and availability of online programs undergraduate enrollments in the programs;
  • Changes in enrollments in the running start and other dual enrollment programs;
  • Impacts on funding levels for state student financial aid programs;
  • Any changes in the percent of students who apply for student financial aid using the FAFSA;
  • Any changes in the percent of students who apply for available tax credits;
  • Information on the sue of building fee revenue by fiscal or academic year; and
  • Undergraduate tuition and fee rates compared to undergraduate tuition and fee rates at similar institutions in the global challenge states.

With regard to the Opportunity Scholarship and Opportunity Expansion program the focus will also be on student access and affordability.

Both of the pieces of legislation require a JLARC study in 2018. The Committee plans to combine the two studies into one report.

Washington Legislature Ends 2012 Supplemental Session

The first special session of 2012 ended last night as of midnight. Though close the Washington Legislature did not complete business by this deadline and Governor Gregoire called the Legislature back for a second special session. After nearly eight straight hours of work from midnight to early this morning, the Legislature passed a balanced budget, jobs act, and a handful of policy reform bills.

Operating Budget

 The 2012 supplemental operating budget passed 64-34 in the House and 44-2 in the Senate and was delivered to the Governor for her consideration early this morning. The operating budget makes no reductions to K-12 and higher education.  Some of the highlights of the budget include $238 million to the general fund as a result of the state temporarily claiming control of local sales taxes before they are redistributed back to jurisdictions at their usual time, an increase in taxes raising about $14.5 million by eliminating a tax deduction for some large banks, additional revenue to the state through changing rules on roll-your-own cigarettes, and at the end a reserve fund of $320 million.

Impact to Higher Education

The operating budget as passed by the Legislature does not reduce general fund support for higher education, this includes further eductions to institutions and financial aid. The budget however does include some provisos and policy changes.

  • Bellevue College is authorized to offer baccalaureate degrees. Prior to the passage of this bill the College could only offer applied baccalaureate degrees.
  • The two and four year institutions are required to conduct a comprehensive review of institutional tuition waiver policies.
  • Evergreen is required to reallocate $276,000 for FY2013 for an expansion in enrollments in STEM as defined in HB 1795. This definition includes bachelor and advanced degree programs in the sciences, which includes agriculture and natural resources, biology and biomedical sciences, computer and information sciences, engineering and engineering technologies, health professions and clinical sciences, mathematics and statistics, and physical sciences and science technologies, including participation and degree completion rates for students from traditionally underrepresented populations.
  • The Washington State Institute for Public Policy is required to conduct a longitudinal study of the state need grant program ($100,000).
  • The two and four year institutions are not permitted to use state appropriated funds to support intercollegiate athletic programs
  • Changes state payments for public employee health benefits from $850 to $800 per month

Capital Budget and Jobs Act

The 2012  capital budget made no changes to Evergreen’s biennial capital budget. The Jobs Acts  which includes a new bonds bill and the traditional capital budget  are estimated to have an economic impact of $1.1 billion in construction work over the next 14 months.  

Reform Bills

As critical to the process as balancing the budget were efforts to pass reform bills to provide for greater long-term sustainability in the state budget. Among the policy bills passed by the Legislature three were critical to finally ending the 2012 supplemental session.


SB 6378 addresses early retirement benefits for future state employees.. Under law changes in 2000 and 2007, an employee with 30 years’ service could retire at age 62 with no reduction in benefits, and at age 55 with only a 20 percent reduction. Under the new law, retirement at age 62 will lower the benefit by 15 percent and age 55 by 50 percent. The savings will go to the state’s general fund.

 K-12 Healthcare

SB 5940 attempts to equalize health-insurance benefits for full-time and part-time school district employees and their families. The bill requires school districts to meet certain requirements, including making all employees pay a share of premiums, offering a high-deductible health plan and tying the price of individual and family benefits.

Balanced Budget

SB 6636 requires the state’s two-year budget to be in line with anticipated revenue over a four-year period or 4.5% growth per year, whichever is greater.   Growth has met or exceeded 4.5 percent in half of the past 16 years.

Congressional Republicans Release Budget Proposal

Late this week the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives released a budget proposal for fiscal year 2013.

According to the author of the budget proposal. U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, the proposal would reduce next year’s deficit to $797 billion, a lower figure than the $977 billion deficit the Congressional Budget Office estimates would result from the president’s budget. Ryan also estimates it would reduce deficits over the next decade by $3.3 trillion more than the Obama budget.

The proposed budget would impact multiple frederal programs and services. The proposal cuts discretionary spending beyond the required reduction levels  in the debt ceiling agreement established last year. The budget would set discretionary spending for 2013 at $1.03 trillion, which is $20 billion less than the discretionary cap agreed when Congress increased the debt limit in August. The proposed budget also instructs six committees to find $261 billion in replacement savings over 10 years, and $18 billion in savings in the next year alone.

The limits to discretionary spending will impact all non-military and non-entitlement programs, including several higher education programs. The one exception in the budget is basic research which is funded at current maintenance levels. Beyond the decrease in discretionary funding, the budget proposes a handful of key changes specific to higher education.

Within the framework of the proposed budget, changes to higher education are noted under the heading “Repairing the Social Safety Net”. According to the budget proposal:

The safey-net system created in the last century is in dire need of a new round of reform. Government programs that aim to support the safety net are failing the citizens who rely on them and the taxapyers who fund them. A system designed for mid-20th century demographics and economics is ill equipped to deal with the unique pressures of the 21st century.  From a budgetary perspective, these programs are growing at an unsustainable rate…From a moral perspective, which well-intentioned, the paternalistic structures of these programs fail the very people they are intended to help.

Specific to higher education the budget proposal notes that:

Globalization and technological advances have made the modern economy more complex and dynamic. The new reality is workers at all levels must be ready to update or learn new, more specialized skills to match the changing needs of employees competing in the global economy. Federal higher eduation and job-training programs must be reformed to help workers adapt to this new challenge. Current federal aid structures are exacerbating a crisis in tuition inflation, plunging students and their families into unaffordable levels of debt or foreclosing the possibility of any higher education at all…these young adults are graduating with enormuous loan repayments and having difficulty finding jobs in our low-growth economic environment….But, instead of helping more students achieve their dreams, studies have shown that increased federal financial aid is simply being absorbed by tuition increases…when it comes to job training and continuing education, the current policy landscape is dotted with failed, unaccountable and duplicative programs.

The higher education context laid out in the budget proposal drives three major recommendations for change to current higher education policy.

Pell Grant

The proposal calls for placing the Pell Grant on a “sustainable path by limiting the growth of financial aid and focusing it on low-income students who need it the most”. The goal, according to the proposal, is to force institutions to reform and adapt and to ensure that Pell spending goes to students who truly need it.

In addition the proposal makes the argument that federal intervention in higher education should be focused on financial aid as well as policies that maximize innovation and ensure a robust menu of intitutional options from which students and their families can choose. To achieve this goal the suggestion is made to re-examine the data made available to students to make certain students and familes are prepared with information that will assist them in making their postsecondary decsions.  Finally the proposal recommends removing regulatory barriers in higher education that act to restrict flexibility and innovative teaching, particularly as it relates to online coursework.

The proposal does not state specific spending levels for the program.

Change How Student Loans are Viewed on the Federal Government Balance Sheet

The budget proposal would authorize the use of “fair-value” accounting principles for any legislation dealing with federal loan and federal loan guarantee programs. The budget would make this change by altering the Credit Reform Act (1990).

The Act allows Congress to treat loans differtently from other types of spending in the federal budget. Before the Act was passed, loans were measured in the cash flow of expenditures and repayments in a given year. After the Act, the cost to the government of loan programs was measured using the total value of the loans.

This change would allow for market risk to be taken into consideration rather than relying on the Treasury borrowing rate. As a result student loans would appear to be a slight loss on the government’s balance sheet, because it would take into account the difference between what the govenrment would earn and what a private leander would earn on the loans. As a result the change would make the federal deficit appear slightly larger.

This, however, does not mean that changes to loan programs are inevitable.  But, the impact, critics share, is that this accounting change would change how loan program costs are scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Some argue that this change would create a more difficult enviornment for new loan programs. Additional loans would appear to lose the govenrment money in the long term, not break even which makes for a harder sell.

Consolidate Overlappyting Job-Training Programs into Accountable Career Scholarships

The proposal calls for consolidating several job-training programs into scholarships to “improve access to career development assistance and strengthen the first rung on the ladder out of poverty”. The budget would establish, from the consolidation of these programs, a streamlined workforce development system with fewer funding streams that provide accountable, targeted career scholarship programs.  In addition the proposal would improve oversight and accountability for job-training programs by tracking the type of training provided, the cost per student, employment after training, and whether or not trainees are working in the field for which they were trained.

Other Budget Proposals

The congressional Democrats have not released a budget proposal. However earlier this year President Obama did release a budget proposal. An overall comparison of President Obama’s budget and the Republican proposal shows very different philosophies for moving forward.

Under the President’s proposal, funding for the National Science Foundation would increase by 5 percent, to $7.4 billion and the National Endowment for the Humanities  would get a slight increase, from $146 million to $154. The American Opportunity Tax credit is also made permanent – providing up to $2,000 per year for tuition.

With a goal for the US to “lead the world in college graduates by 2012,” specifics include:

  • Sustaining the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,635 through the 2014-2015 award year.
  • A one-year measure to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling this summer and doubles the number of work-study jobs over the next five years.
  • New reforms that shift federal aid away from colleges that do not keep tuition low.
  • Making permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Next Steps

Beginning with a committee markup Wednesday morning, the U.S. House of Representatives hopes to move the proposal through the House by the end of this week. And as most lawmakers  leave for spring recess, six House committees would be left with an April 27  deadline to report back legislation that would become a down payment of $261  billion in deficit reduction — to be brought to the floor in May.

Students Without Diploma or GED No Longer Eligible for Pell Grant

As of July 1, when the new federal budget goes into effect, newly enrolled students are required to have a high school diploam or a GED in order to receive federal financial aid.

Prior to the passage of the latest federal budget, students who wanted to attend college but lacked a high school diploma or a GED were able to have access to federal financial aid by completing a basic skills test to prove their “ability to benefit” from a college education or successfully completing six credits.

As of July 1 these options will no longer meet federal eligibility requirements and students will have to earn a diploma or a GED to be eligible for aid.

Special Session Moves to Week 2

This week marks the second week of the first special session of 2012 and follows on the heels of a relatively uneventful first week.

First Week of Special Session – Recap

For the majority of the first week little was happening on The Hill. Governor Gregoire met with legislative leaders including buget negotiators, but little progress was made. Towards the end of the week things got a little more interesting.

On Thursday morning, following a budget meeting with House and Senate members, a group of Senators (Republicans and Democrats) released a new budget proposal (SB 6612). That afternoon, disappointed with the lack of progress on the budget and the release of a new proposal by a Senate coalition, the Governor pulled back on several bill signings and declared that delays and potential vetoes may take place if  no progress on the budget was made.

Second Week of Special Session Kicks-Off

Yesterday, as the second week of the special session began, budget negotiators met with the Governor’s Director of the Office of Financial Management to talk about the fundamental fiscal disagreement that separates the two camps.

The largest impasse appears to be how the House and Senate proposals suggest balancing the supplemental budget. The House passed proposal would shift approximately $330 million in current expenses to the next budget period by delaying payments to school-districts. The most recent Senate coalition proposal would delay a pension payment and balance it with pension reforms and retirement-policy changes.

Budget negotiations among legislators and the Governor’s office continued today.

Governor Suggests New Idea

In comments to reporters on Monday, the Governor hinted that she has presented a new plan to budget negotiators in an effort to break the impasse. However she did not reveal any aspects of the proposal.

It was reported that she did indicate to reporters what the plan “was not” which included  securitizing state revenues, privatizing the state lottery system, allowing slot machines in non-Indian casinos or a general increase in cigarette taxes.

House Republicans

This session each of the four caucuses issued supplemental operating budget proposals. Often the public only gets to see two proposals, one from the Senate and one from the House.

Of the four proposals released over the last month, three of the four make no cuts to K-12 or higher education. The exception being the House Republican proposal. News came forward this week that the House Republicans have announced a new supplemental plan that would make no cuts to K-12 or higher education. However, details have yet to be released.

Senate Coalition Introduces New Budget

Last Friday Washington Senate Republicans and three Senate Democrats released a new budget proposal (SB 6612). The proposed budget is a move closer to the latest budget passed by the Washington House.

The Senate coalition announced the new proposal at a press conference after the end of the first week of special session during which negotiations were essentially non-existent.

The last proposal from the Senate coalition does include the proposal to skip a pension payment that was part of the Senate-passed budget during the regular session.  However the proposal does give some on the ending fund balance dropping the balance from $600 million to $440 million.

The new proposal restores approximately $140 million in services/programs that were reduced in the prior Senate-passed budget. The savings in large part go to buy back reductions in the original version of the proposal for higher education and K-12. As a result no cuts are made to K-12 or higher education nor does the proposal shift the school-district payment to the next biennium.

Although there was not any restoration of prior cuts enacted by the Legislature to higher education, the Senate coalition budget would make no further reductions to institutional budgets this biennium. In addition, the budget propsoal would:

  • Establish a joint legislative task force on the higher education funding formula,
  • Restore funds to student attending for-profit institutions to 100% of award levels (in the 2011-13 biennial budget the awards were reduced to 50%),
  • Allow Bellevue College and the Seattle Community College District to offer baccalaurate degrees (this proposal is also included in the House passed budget), and
  • Change state payments for public employee health benefits from $850 to $800 per month (this is included in the House passed budget).

Beyond higher education the proposal also included several reforms. The reforms include a four-year balanced budget, a constitutional amendment to lower the state’s debt limit, changes to the state’s pension system for state and education employees and retirees, consolidating the K-12 health benefits system, and repealing the voeter-approved initiatives to reduce class size and COLAs.

No further action has been scheduled to date on the new proposal.

Obama Addresses National Governors Association and Talks Higher Education

At the end of February President Obama addressed the National Governors Association (NGA) with an eye to education.

President Obama challenged the nation’s governors to ensure all students in their schools get the education they need to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.  “Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state as the decisions you make about where to invest,” he asserted.  “Budgets are about choices.  So, today, I’m calling on you to choose to invest more in teachers; invest more in education; invest more in our children and their future.  That doesn’t mean you’ve got to invest in things that aren’t working.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to break some china and move aggressively on reform.  But, the fact of the matter is we don’t have to choose between resources and reform.  We need resources and reform.” 

President Obama focused on the blueprint he has laid out, to work with Congress, to  establish a set of policies focused on increasing post-secondary education opportunities in the U.S.

The proposal put forth by the President would include several components.

  • Reform student aid to promote affordability and value: To keep tuition from spiraling too high and drive greater value, the President will propose reforms to federal campus-based air programs to shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep net tuition down, and toward those colleges and universities that do their fair share to keep tuition affordable, provide good value, and serve needy students well. These changes in federal aid to campuses will leverage $10 billion annually to keep tuition down. The President’s plan calls for shared responsibility between the federal government, states, and institutions of higher education to tackle rising college costs by  improving the distribution of federal financial aid and increase campus-based aid. This reform will reward colleges that are succeeding in meeting the following principles:
      • Setting responsible tuition policy, offering relatively lower net tuition prices and/or restraining tuition growth.
      • Providing good value to students and families, offering quality education and training that prepares graduates to obtain employment and repay their loans.
      • Serving low-income students, enrolling and graduating relatively higher numbers of Pell-eligible students.

In his proposal the President is proposing to change how funds for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOGs), Perkins Loans, and Work Study are distributed by implementing an improved formula that shifts aid from schools with rising tuition to those acting responsibly, focused on setting responsible tuition policy, providing good value in education, and ensuring that higher numbers of low-income students complete their education. He is also proposing to increase the amount of campus-based aid to $10 billion annually. The increase is primarily driven by an expansion of loans in the federal Perkins program – which comes at no additional taxpayer cost.

Under his plan colleges that can show that they are providing students with good long-term value will be rewarded with additional dollars to help students attend. Those that show poor value, or who don’t act responsibly in setting tuition, will receive less federal campus-based aid.  Students will receive the greatest government grant and loan support at colleges where they are likely to be best served, and little or no campus aid will flow to colleges that fail to meet affordability and value standards.


  • Create a Race to the Top for college affordability and completion: The president will create incentives for states and colleges to keep costs under control through a $1billion investment in a new challenge to states to spur higher education reform focused on affordability and improved outcomes across state colleges and universities. The Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion will reward states who are willing to drive systemic change in their higher education policies and practices, while doing more to contain their tuition and make it easier for students to earn a college degree.The President is proposing a program that would spur systemic state reforms to reduce costs for students and promote success in our higher education system at public colleges. This $1 billion investment would incentivize states to: (1) Revamp the structure of state financing for higher education; (2) Align entry and exit standards with K-12 education and colleges to facilitate on-time completion; and (3) Maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education in order to address important long-term causes of cost growth at the public institutions that serve two-thirds of four-year college students. The intention is that the Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion would incentivize governors and state legislatures around the nation to act on spurring this innovative reform. Through cost-saving measures like redesigning courses and making better use of education technology, institutions can keep costs down to provide greater affordability for students.


  • A first in the World competition to model innovation and quality on college campuses: The president will invest $55 million in a new First in the World competition, to support the public and private colleges and non-profit organizations as they work to develop and test the next breakthrough strategy that will boost higher education attainment and student outcomes. The new program will also help scale-up those innovative and effective practices that have been proven to boost productivity and enhance teaching and learning on college campuses.  This initiative would provide modest start-up funding for individual colleges, including private colleges, for projects that could lead to longer-term and larger productivity improvements among colleges and universities – such as course redesign through the improved use of technology, early college preparation activities to lessen the need for remediation, competency-based approaches to gaining college credit, and other ideas aimed at spurring changes in the culture of higher education.


  • Better data for families choose the right college for them: The president will call for a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions, designed to provide the essential information about college costs, graduation rates, and potential earnings, all in an easy-to-read format that will help students and families choose a college that is well suited to their needs, priced affordably and consistent with their career and educational goals. The Administration will create a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions making it easier for students and families to choose a college that is best suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and educational goals.  The administration will also make an updated version of the ‘Financial Aid Shopping Sheet,’ announced in October, a required template for all colleges, rather than a voluntary tool, to make it easier for families to compare college financial aid packages. Finally, the President is also proposing to begin collecting earnings and employment information for colleges, so that students can have an even better sense of the post post-graduation outcomes they can expect.


  • Federal Support to Tackle College Costs In his State of the Union, President Obama called on Congress to: (1) Keep student loan interest rates low. This summer, the interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans are set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% – a significant burden at a time when the economy is still fragile and students are taking on increasing amounts of debt to earn a degree. The President is asking Congress to prevent that hike from taking place for a year to keep student debt down, a proposal that will keep interest rates low for 7.4 million student loan borrowers and save the average student over a thousand dollars; (2) Double the number of work-study jobs available:  The President also proposes to double the number of career-related work-study opportunities so that students are able to gain valuable work-related experience while in school; and (3) Maintain our commitment to college affordability: Over 9 million students and families per year take advantage of the Obama Administration’s American Opportunity Tax Credit – supporting up to $10,000 over four years of college.  In his State of the Union address, the President called on Congress to make this tax credit permanent and prevent it from expiring in 2012.