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Special Session Casts Shadow on National Education Week

November 14, 2011

SEATTLE - You might call it a shadow looming over National Education Week in Washington State, with a special session just around the corner and the threat of another $166 million in education cuts. The president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Seattle, Karen Strickland, says much of K-12 spending is mandated, so the state cannot cut much more there. That leaves state colleges and universities to face the deepest cuts, she warns. The AFT represents some 6,000 higher education employees across the state - and they are are bracing for the worst, she ways.

"That means it would be a real 15-percent cut, so we're going to lose more programs; in fact, the administration believes that program closures are inevitable. But we're going to fight like mad to keep that from happening."

The special session is being called to fill a $1.4 billion budget hole. Gov. Gregoire proposed the cuts, even though she says she "hates this budget more than the last one." Strickland has expressed disappointment that Gregoire is not pushing for more revenue.

It is doubtful that lawmakers will try to impose another tuition increase, Strickland says, because Seattle Community Colleges are already seeing declining enrollment.

"Students are paying 12 percent more in tuition, but have fewer classes to choose from, fewer programs and fewer student services folks - like financial aid."

The governor, lawmakers and even Community College administrators have failed to lead, she adds, when it comes to what Strickland calls "fulfilling the social contract."

"They're waiting for people like us - labor, and human services and educators - to make it impossible for them to do anything but put a revenue package together."

Strickland says her group appreciates the support it has gotten from Occupy Seattle, which she says might have been even more vocal on education if it had not been preoccupied by fighting for the right to continue the occupation.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - WA