Wisconsin isn't the only state where protesters are showing up at the capitol today. More than 200 students (more than half of them from WSU) from all six of Washington's state-funded universities descended on Olympia today to protest cuts to higher education.

The numbers are startling. In the last biennium state funds for Washington's universities have taken a $500 million cut, including $27 million last week.

That's out of a $1.8 billion education budget—a nearly 30 percent cut.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal for the next biennium takes another $382 million bite—and budget leaders expect it could be worse. (There's a $5 billion shortfall for the 2011-2013 biennium.)

Higher education is one of the smaller slices of the general fund to begin with—at about 8 percent of the $30 billion plus budget. (K-12, for example, is more than 40 percent.)

At a rally on the capitol steps, state Sens. Michael Baumgartner (R-6, Spokane suburbs) and Scott White (D-46, N. Seattle) along with Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne, Ballard) addressed the crowd, telling them that showing up in Olympia was exactly the right approach.

Carlyle has a bill that would allow universities to set their own tuition, which was anathema to students when Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-26, Gig Harbor) proposed it last year. Softening the blow, Carlyle's bill would mandate that 50 percent of any increases over nine percent go to student aid and academic programming; also, his bill would only give schools the authority to set tuition through 2014. Opponents of handing tuition authority to the schools fear that it will disengage the state from higher ed funding and that schools will irresponsibly jack up rates.

Carlyle's rejoinder? 1) The state, with its record of defunding higher ed, already is disengaged; and worse, they hit students twice, jacking tuition—it was a 30 percent jump over the last two years—and then raiding education funds to bail out the rest of the budget, "for a double dip,"  Carlyle says. And 2) Carlyle says, granting the temporary authority will allow the real market value of each university to become clear—guiding the legislature, when they take tuition authority back, to actually get tuition right.

U.W. student leader Quinn Majeski wrote an op/ed on PubliCola about higher ed funding earlier this month.

Community college student showed up in full force—400 strong—in Olympia in January to protest cuts.
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