For all the talk from political and business leaders about the need to invest more in education in order to keep Washington's economy competitive, their refusal to address our state's structural revenue deficit assures that we will continue to do the exact opposite. According to a report released today from the Washington State Budget and Policy center—"Declining Support for Education Threatens Economic Growth"—legislators have slashed almost $5 billion, about 25 percent, from our education system over the past three years alone, resulting in larger class sizes and greatly reduced access to both early and higher education.
But raw dollars don't give the whole picture, for these cuts have occurred at a time of rising enrollment and rising costs. Between 2008 and 2010, 12,135 students were added to the state's K-12 rolls, while the number of classroom teachers was cut by about 3,000, and state funding for early education—once a centerpiece of Gov. Gregoire's agenda—has been all but eliminated. And for higher education, the cumulative cuts have been even worse, shifting an ever greater burden—and debt—onto the backs of recent and future graduates.
For example, tuition and fees for undergraduate resident students at the University of Washington have more than doubled over recent years, from $5,286 in 2005 to $10,574 today. College seniors who graduated in 2010 carried an average student loan debt of $22,101, as the share of higher education costs shouldered by the state flipped from 70 percent in 2000 to 35 percent for the class of 2013.
So forgive me for not cheering the additional $10 million Gregoire proposes to spend on aerospace education when she's signed budgets slashing annual funding by $200 million over three years at the University of Washington alone. As for appeasing Boeing, gimme a break. If Boeing executives really cared about investing in education here in Washington they wouldn't have held us up for billions in tax breaks in exchange for keeping 787 jobs in Everett... a deal they didn't even keep. So do you really think $10 million on aerospace education is going to keep the 737 in Renton, when their long term production strategy is clearly focused on breaking organized labor?
Politicians and business leaders love to talk about investing in education—even Rob McKenna. But until they start talking about how they plan to pay for it—you know, taxes—I'm going to continue to refuse to take them seriously.