Community colleges had been counting on more generous state dollars from Washington’s public schools to help fix a funding imbalance in the state’s dual-credit program known as Running Start.
But a budget bill passed by the state Senate could undo that possibility.
The Senate’s basic education funding bill, which passed Feb. 14, freezes the amount of money community colleges receive from school districts for Running Start students, and in subsequent years, allows it to grow only at the rate of inflation.
That same provision was struck from the House version of the budget. Community college officials hope that when the two budgets are reconciled, the House version will win out, said Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
A spokesman for Senate Democrats said lawmakers are looking at increasing the amount for Running Start, and that the budget is up in the air.
Running Start is one of the state’s most popular dual-credit programs. This year, about 26,000 students are attending community colleges to take at least some of the classes they need to get a high-school diploma. With the community college classes, they’re earning high school and college credit at the same time, and some will graduate from high school with a two-year community college degree.
Here’s how the funding works:
The state allots $6,570 for every high-school student who goes to a community or technical college full time to take college classes. The student’s home school district retains 7 percent of the money, and pays the community or technical college the rest – about $6,111 for every student who takes a full load of community college classes. (For those who take less than a full load, the money is prorated based on the number of credit-hours the student is taking.)
But the colleges say the education these students are getting costs more than the colleges receive from the state — or, technically, from the student’s home school district.
For example, full-time community college students pay $4,000 a year in tuition, and the state subsidizes the rest — a little less than $5,600 per student, for a total of about $9,500.
In other words, there’s a funding gap of about $3,400 between what the colleges receive to educate full-time community college students and what they receive from school districts to educate full-time Running Start students.
Community colleges aren’t permitted to turn away Running Start students by reducing enrollment. So, when money is tight, they have typically offered fewer classes to all students, and take other cost-cutting measures — for example, reducing support services and cutting new curriculum development.
“It impacts the entire college budget,” Yoshiwara said. “It affects the level of service that all students get.”
The community colleges are receiving $735 million this fiscal year from the state budget to run the 34-college system. They estimate that they received about $120 million last year from the school districts for Running Start. As Running Start has grown, it has become a larger, more important part of the funding pie for community colleges.
Yoshiwara said the community colleges assumed that the new money flowing into the K-12 system as a result of the McCleary lawsuit would also help the Running Start funding imbalance; as the amount of money allotted for basic education grew, the Running Start funding would grow too, until by 2021, the colleges would receive as much for educating Running Start students as they do for regular full-time students.
But not if the Senate’s version of the budget prevails, she said.