New people are in charge of your future this year. Committee chairs in the House and Senate are grappling with the difficult question of how to preserve educational opportunity when the state budget is in the tank.

Rep. Larry Seaquist is the new chair of the House Higher Education Committee (or, as Rep Seaquist calls it, the Committee of the Four Larrys). Rep. Larry Haler is the ranking Republican on the committee. This week Reps. Seaquist and Haler are interviewed on the TVW program, Capital Record. No time to watch? Ok. I’ll summarize:

Rep. Larry Seaquist

Higher education will be a core issue this session. Washington’s overall level of higher education attainment is too low. The overall objective this session must be to substantially raise the level of educational achievement in this state. We’re falling behind in two ways: older Washingtonians are better educated than younger generations. In general, we are much less educated than people in 35 other countries. The issue this year is to see whether we can turn that around.

We want to clarify oversight and determine the metrics that allow us to measure efficiency and costs. The governor’s task force on higher education funding recommended greater authority for universities to increase tuition, and they backed it up with increased accountability. They also approved privately funded student aid to boost state aid. We’ll look at a legislative package that addresses accountability and efficiency.

Regarding the governor’s proposal to merge all education agencies: Now there is only one person who looks at the entire education system—the chair of the House Committee on Education Appropriations, Rep. Kathy Haigh. That’s the only place in the state where that happens. It makes sense to try to integrate the continuum. It would create advantages for strategic planning and help us on an integrated education at all levels.

We shouldn’t micromanage universities. We already have a large, well run system. We simply need to produce many more graduates rapidly.

Representative Larry Haler.

We need greater transparency for the use of public monies. The state provides FTE for each university and we don’t know how the money is being spent. Each university should have an Internet “dashboard” that shows how tuition money is being spent. We have to take a close look at how we charge fees. And we need a better understanding of the “pots of money” at universities–some have five or six – to be sure those aren’t slush funds.

I disagree with tuition authority. Citizens expect the legislature to maintain its fiduciary responsibility to with respect to setting tuition levels. Tuition authority is not the solution. We have to look at where money is being spent. The highest increases in money being spent are at universities. The books must be opened up. Unelected boards are not accountable to voters and shouldn’t have tuition authority. Universities would get into “bidding wars.”

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About Linda Schactler

Linda is the former Director of Communications for the Washington State Senate, and former deputy director of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board. From 2000 through 2010 Linda was the proprietor of Schactler Communications, an Olympia-based public affairs business. She holds a master of arts in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Linda can be reached at her Ellensburg office schactler@cwu.edu, 509-963-1384, or on her cell phone, 509-607-4103.
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