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WA Community, Tech College Employees Fear Cuts Will Follow Pandemic

More cuts in spending are likely in Washington state as the financial fallout from COVID-19 continues. (Jim Bowen/Flickr)
More cuts in spending are likely in Washington state as the financial fallout from COVID-19 continues. (Jim Bowen/Flickr)
April 22, 2020

SEATTLE -- Washington state community and technical college employees fear budget cuts could be coming as COVID-19 rocks the state coffers.

Already, Gov. Jay Inslee has vetoed an expected $445 million in future spending through 2023, with some of those cuts coming to education.

American Federation of Teachers of Washington President Karen Strickland says her union is watching this closely, because the state has a history of slimming community and technical college budgets in particular.

"Even in good times," Strickland says, "there's constantly concern about the budget and not having enough money."

She points out that higher education investment numbers still are recovering from the 2008 recession, and says cutting investments now also could hurt more students in the fall. She predicts high unemployment numbers will likely lead to an enrollment explosion, as more people sign up for community and technical college classes.

Combined with the state's big goal of having 70% of Washingtonians with a post-high-school credential by age 26 in the next decade, Strickland says, it's clear that Washington leaders will have to make community and technical colleges a priority.

"It's one thing to have a whole bunch more students coming into the colleges, but it's another thing to get them out the other side," she explains. "And so, we have to invest in the 'workforce that builds the workforce,' if we really want to see the kind of success that we need to see."

Compared with other higher education institutions, community and technical colleges serve more diverse groups of students, but Strickland says recent efforts to address racial disparities in education could be lost if funding and attention fall.

She notes the disparities already are being exacerbated by the coronavirus: "If we choose an austerity mentality as we approach this situation, those problems are just going to become worse."

Disclosure: American Federation of Teachers of Washington contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA