Middle class needs GET

Legislators exhibit their core beliefs (and core dislikes) as they triage the state budget. Who benefits and who pays? Policies are an index of public values, and the priorities barometer is revealing.

Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition Plan (GET) is an illustration. For 15 years, the program has made higher ed a manageable option for middle class families. Individuals purchase tuition credits at current prices and subsequently redeem them when the student attends one of Washington’s public higher ed institutions. The program has attracted low and middle-income parents anxious to plan for their children’s future, a tuition-security investment for an evolving higher ed landscape.

That evolving landscape took on new meaning as lawmakers monkeyed with tuition, de facto shifting the cost burden to students. GET units track with expected tuition increases, and double-digit spikes undercut actuarial forecasts. The glitch spurred a legislative advisory committee to recommend eventually sandbagging GET.

If the program was insolvent or represented a salient risk to future budgets, then phasing out GET and finding a suitable replacement would make sense. It doesn’t. Last Monday, the state Actuary’s office issued a report to state Sen. Ed Murray documenting that if the current tuition structure and GET remain status quo, there is just a 0.6 percent chance that the state will need to dip into general funds to cover liabilities.

The miniscule figure is misleading because it is predicated on tuition covering 70 percent of higher ed costs. That formula is likely to move to a 40/60 state-tuition split which would reduce the risk to 0.2 percent. A 50-50 split in the next seven years would boot the risk to non-existent.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom made zeroing out GET a priority, but the blowback was fierce (see “public values” above) and he took a mulligan. Sen. Barbara Bailey, the newly minted chair of the Higher Education Committee, demonstrated real leadership, underlining GET’s overarching mission.

“I want to take a thoughtful look at the GET program and make sure we keep the financial integrity of the system intact” Bailey said. “We are looking closely at how we can continue to provide Washington’s hard working, middle-class families with the opportunity to invest in higher education. We still have a lot of work to do, but it is my intention to pursue reforms that will preserve this program for years to come.”

Bailey, a Republican, finds common cause with a Democrat, Sen. Nick Harper of Everett. It’s a propitious sign.

“GET is one of the few tools we have to provide affordable access to higher education for middle class families,” Harper said. “It’s important that the Legislature do whatever is necessary to ensure its viability.” Amen.

More in Opinion

Daydream is over; GOP must work with Democrats on ACA fix

Editorial: The Senate should end its latest ACA repeal effort and continue bipartisan talks.

Editorial cartoons for Monday, Sept. 25

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Editorial cartoons for Sunday, Sept. 24

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Simoneaux: Job-hunting advice from one who’s done hunting

Past a certain age — say 50 — you’ll need to keep your wits and your humor at the ready.

Saunders: Ask around; you’ll hear praise for Trump on N. Korea

The leader of the nation most vulnerable to Kim’s aggression said he liked Trump’s speech.

Milbank: If he isn’t making us ill, Trump is making some crazy

A new paper discusses the Trump era and what mental health professionals are observing in patients.

Corporate tax reform won’t trickle down to workers

I see Congress is going to tackle tax reform, including cuts to… Continue reading

County Council, Dist. 5: Kelly’s knowledge needed on council

Recently the Herald chose to give a great deal of attention to… Continue reading

Why Snohomish County should shoot for Amazon’s HQ2

Editorial: Not that we have a real shot at it, but because of what else we might attract here.

Most Read