When in Doubt, Tax the Students

by Daron Anderson of UW Daily

The state needs money, and the state Legislature is considering cutting the State Need Grant, the UW’s largest financial-aid program, then using student tuition dollars to make up the difference.

The Washington Senate Ways and Means committee proposed a $25 million cut from the grant’s funds last Wednesday to make up for a current state biennial budget deficit of about $500 million that needs to be settled by July 1, the start of the 2011-13 biennium. In order to protect financial aid, however, some senators have proposed using student tuition dollars to make up for the gap.

The Legislature is unable to cut higher-education funding because of the “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement from the federal stimulus package, mandating that they keep state support at a certain level through this year. This means the state cannot directly cut funding toward higher education in this supplemental budget, forcing legislators to get creative when dealing with the deficit. Legislators can, however, cut the State Need Grant, and using tuition money to support it does not represent a violation of the requirement, said Dave Johnson, Budget Coordinator of the House Ways and Means committee.

“My interpretation would be that the [Recovery Act] requirements place limis on what you can do with state funding, [but] they don’t place limits on tuition or research,” Johnson said at a committee meeting last Thursday. “There is no requirement about financial aid, research or tuition.”

Last year, 7,000 UW undergraduate resident students received aid from the State Need Grant.

Margaret Shepherd, director of State Relations for the UW Office of External Affairs, is concerned that the cut will actually represent both a cut to the institution and to financial aid.

“Cutting the student financial aid and then using student tuition to pay for the cut is something that is unprecedented,” she said. “I think it is the most significant cut they could have proposed, largely because not only does it represent a budget cut, but a reduction in financial aid, which is something that the Legislature has protected [in the past].”

Quinn Majeski, director of ASUW’s Office of Government Relations, said that most higher-education stakeholders agree tuition money is not meant to be used in this way.

“That money is what students pay for their education, not for the state to use for something else,” he said. “Everyone is in agreement except for the people in Olympia voting for it.”

The Legislature is permitted to make this type of a cut, and there is currently not enough time in this session to prevent it in the future.

“There’s no law that prohibits it; we’ve never needed a law before,” he said. “[But] there’s no way we could write a bill to make it a law before the cut-off date for policy bills on Feb. 18.”

With this proposal, higher-education institutions would receive a proportional cut based on their overall budget. The UW would take a $5.6 million cut to state need grant funding, the largest of the four-year universities in the state.

Shepherd and Majeski both testified against the bill in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

“[I] testified with significant concerns regarding the policy of using student tuition to backfill state obligations,” Shepherd said. “Policy shift using student tuition to pay for the state’s financial responsibilities is very concerning.”

Although financial aid is not protected by the federal MOE requirement, Majeski sees the proposal as violating its spirit.

“They are literally taking student dollars,” he said. “This time, it’s going to the State Need Grant, but there’s no guarantee that if they do this again, it’s going to go toward something that benefits students.”

Reach reporter Daron Anderson at

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  1. 1

    Excellent article and easy to understand explanation. How do I go about getting permission to post part of the article in my upcoming news letter? Giving proper credit to you the author and link to the site would not be a problem.

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