2019-2021 Legislative Budget Makes Significant Investments in Access for Students and Brighter Futures in Washington

Legislators in Olympia finished their work earlier this week, and I wanted to share a few outcomes of the 2019 legislative session as they relate to Western and higher education in general.

Operating budget:

Despite the limited availability of discretionary funding, the legislature made significant and historic investments in our state’s higher education system this session.  One critical investment is full funding of the State Need Grant (renamed the Washington College Grant) and a guarantee that all eligible students will receive the award by academic year 2020-21, as well as an expansion of income eligibility.  This is a tremendous step in making higher education in Washington accessible and affordable, regardless of family income. 

For Western in particular, $3.4 million was appropriated to increase access to STEM degrees, as well as partial funding for employee compensation.  The 2019-21 operating budget also includes funding to support faculty and staff salary increases, including a 3% annual compensation increase in both years of the 2019-21 biennium.  

The funding for these investments was largely provided through passage of House Bill 2158, which creates a dedicated funding source for higher education through a targeted increase in taxes for certain businesses in the state that rely on employees with college degrees.  I’m grateful to the members of the Legislature and Governor Inslee for their vision, hard work, and willingness to make tough choices in order to achieve this milestone for Washingtonians.

Capital budget:

The 2019-21 capital budget includes many important infrastructure projects at Western.  The legislature fully funded WWU’s top capital budget priority: $60 million for construction of a new interdisciplinary science building.  This critical project is an important first step in addressing growing classroom and lab capacity constraints across many science departments. Construction of the building is scheduled to begin January 2020 and be completed by June 2021. 

The 2019-21 capital budget also included $2 million in design funding for a new electrical engineering and computer science building, with a budget proviso to fully fund the building in the following biennium, with the University raising 10% of the construction costs from private philanthropy.

Other notable investments include $3 million for classroom and lab upgrades, funding for minor works and building repair projects across campus, and authority for WWU to self-finance up to $9.95 million for the construction of a new academic support services building, which would potentially free up additional academic space in the campus core.

Initiative 1000:

Also noteworthy was the legislature’s passage of Initiative 1000, which repeals the current ban on affirmative action to remedy discrimination in public employment, education and contracting.  Initiative 1000 will become state law unless sufficient signatures supporting its repeal are gathered within 90 days, in which case the measure would be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.  As Western strives to be a more diverse and inclusive institution, I-1000 will improve our ability to attract the best students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented backgrounds, and to partner with minority-owned business and industry enterprises.

Finally, I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who engaged in the legislative process and advocated for Western and higher education this year.  Students, faculty, staff, alumni, Trustees and advisory board members, friends of Western—all volunteered their time to advocate for an increased commitment to higher education, access and affordability, and the prosperity that increased educational attainment will bring for our state.  Thank you!

Sabah Randhawa