Governor talks tuition, college funding during WWU visit

Following a visit to Western Washington University on Monday, March 2, Gov. Jay Inslee said finding money to help state colleges operate is “going to take more work.”

Inslee discussed his proposed tuition freeze with students during the visit Monday. He also talked about climate change and kindergarten through 12th grade science, technology, engineering and math education.

Students asked him about his operating budget and capital budget for 2015-17, which includes money for the renovation of Sam Carver Gymnasium and for WWU’s Science, Math, and Technology Education program. The SMATE program helps prepare math and science curriculum for K-12 teachers.

When he began discussing tuition, many were glad to see the proposed tuition freeze on the budget. But some students — consisting mostly of political science majors — mentioned the lack of state funding for state universities in the operating budget.

Inslee said Monday there needs to be more state revenue to be able to fund university operating budgets, considering the money now devoted to K-12 education.

“I had a budget that extended that about as much as I thought was acceptable to the public and Legislature, and accommodated the tuition freeze and increased scholarships,” he said.

Western president Bruce Shepard has previously said more cuts in state funding for universities could make it harder for the school to continue to deliver quality education.

Inslee hopes to generate revenue by closing loopholes and imposing a capital gains tax.

“We’ll continue to look for options to help on the operating side, and we’re very healthy on the capital side,” Inslee said. “It’s going to take more work.”

On the capital side, Inslee’s budget includes $48.9 million for 2015-17 that will allow Western to renovate Sam Carver Gymnasium. The $73 million project cost means the university still would need to find funding outside of the state capital budget.

Western expects the Carver project would support an additional 185 graduates a year.

The governor’s proposed budget also includes $300,000 for Western to develop the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education in order to support common core standards in math and language arts in K-12 schools. It would be led by WWU’s SMATE program.

“If we’re going to have STEM-ready students, we’ve got to have STEM-ready teachers,” Inslee said.

Inslee visited a SMATE classroom during his visit. Outside the classroom, he held a tarantula that is kept by the university.

Inslee joked he hoped the tarantula was a Democrat. Later, he said he wasn’t too worried about the spider.

“I’ve dealt with legislators, so I was ready for it,” Inslee said.