When Governor Christine Gregoire released her all-cuts budget on Wednesday, it was no surprise that it included cuts to higher education. However, the level of cuts—$20.9 million from the University of Washington and $146.4 million for the state Need Grant, which provides education funding to more than 12,000 students—are alarming, even to the pessimists.

Couple these proposed cuts with the 25 percent cut in state funding from last year, and the UW is going to be running into major operational problems, says Associated Students at the University of Washington (ASUW) President Timothy Mensing. Mensing says the proposed budget cuts would lead to larger class sizes, fewer classes overall, fewer students graduating, and a less-educated workforce at a time when more and more jobs require a college education. UW president Mark Emmert also noted this week that the grant cuts will reduce diversity on the campus, changing the type of student who's able to attend the university.

Enter the Political Action Network (PAN). PAN, a subset of the Office of Government Relations (OGR) at the UW, is currently made up of 500 student leaders, and is growing. Mensing, along with ASUW Director of Operations Ehsan Aleaziz and the Office of Government Relations, hopes to build the group to 1,000 students before the holiday break.

The group's goal is to bring students into budget discussions with legislators in a way Olympia has never seen from them before—through mass emails, phone-banking, and one-on-one lobbying.

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UW junior Janel Brown, a recipient of the Need Grant, spoke in Olympia on Wednesday, telling the press she's motivated to ace finals every year "because I know someone believes in me."

This drive for a louder student voice hasn’t gone unnoticed by legislators, several of whom came to OGR’s annual legislative reception to show their support.

At the reception, state Sen. Ed Murray (D-43) said the state had “reached the tipping point: Are we going to have a publicly funded higher education system or are we not?” He said raising taxes might be "the only option" that would save the UW from additional cuts.

In contrast, state Rep. Skip Priest (R-30), said better management, not new taxes, could solve the UW's financial problems. “We’ve seen from different states, even when you expand revenue, it isn’t going to solve the problem.”

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