One of the most important discussions in this year’s budget has to do with tuition at our public colleges and universities. Since I’ve been in the legislature I’ve made it a priority that an accessible and affordable higher education be offered for every student who wants to attend college here in Washington. This year, we’re again talking about how we can freeze or possibly even reduce tuition for our students.

There’s no doubt that a reduction in tuition is the ultimate goal– we know that higher education is key to getting a good job these days, and skyrocketing tuition costs have overloaded students with debt and forced some to drop out or avoid college entirely. The question is – how do we pay for it?

Senate Republicans have offered a proposal for tuition reduction without an explicit funding source, saying that it should just be funded in the budget. Without being sure whether some or all of the cost of tuition reduction will be funded each budget cycle this proposal could effectively drive hundreds of millions out of the higher education system, costing students more money by limiting course offerings and forcing more students to come back for fifth or sixth years. Since K-12 funding needs to be dramatically increased as well, it seems to me that the likely result would be a significant reduction in our safety net programs and things like our already underfunded mental health care systems.

Personally, I believe we need to find new revenue sources to provide dedicated funding for education, including higher education – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the wealthiest in our society to pay a little more in taxes so that the middle class doesn’t have to foot the tax bill for our entire state government – but even identifying a specific funding source that already exists and dedicating it to higher education would be a better option that our students could depend upon to ensure lower, stable tuition and a high quality college education. For example, before this bill passed I co-sponsored an amendment that would have paid for the tuition reduction by closing unnecessary tax loopholes in our budget. That would be the responsible thing to do for students.

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin newspaper is a little bit outside of my district, but they ran an editorial over the weekend which I thought had a smart take on the issue. You may want to consider checking it out.