In a nation notorious for wasting trillions on wars and welfare for giant corporations, it’s refreshing to learn that Washington state plans to eliminate or reduce college tuition and aid expenses for many low- to medium-income residents attending any of 66 in-state universities, colleges and other post-secondary schools. It covers both full- and part-time students, and even covers apprenticeships.

“Students whose families make $50,000 or less for a family of four can go to a two- or four-year public college in Washington tuition-free, and students whose families make up to the median income — nearly $92,000 for a family of four — will also get some aid. With the additional funding, Washington will spend $845 million over the 2019-2021 biennium for financial aid,” The Seattle Times reported May 5. About 110,000 students will qualify each year.

(See the Times story at https://tinyurl.com/New-WA-tuition-program. Additional details at https://wsac.wa.gov/media-2019-04-30-WCG.)

Yes, someone has to pay for it. This increase in Washington’s already generous college aid program is funded with a new three-tier business and occupation tax that will be levied on about one-fifth of the state’s 380,000 B&O taxpayers. Microsoft and Amazon, which endorsed the idea, will each pay several million more a year. No one likes new taxes, and saying nice things about this program will doubtlessly invite grumpy letters to the editor. But if businesses want qualified employees, and if the state wants new generations of high-earners for our increasingly high-tech economy, we must be willing to invest in our young people’s education and not saddle them with crushing debt.

College-aid expert Sara Goldrick-Rab told the Times it’s a “unique and brilliant” approach … “pretty much the most progressive state higher ed funding bill I’ve seen at the state level in years.”

The legislation also sets aside $300 million over two years for public colleges and universities, the Times reports, “making targeted investments to boost high-demand fields such as computer science, engineering and health care, and providing what the Legislature calls ‘foundational support’ to recession-proof the state’s colleges and universities.”

In contrast to many states, including Oregon, that have penny-pinched college funding for years, this smart legislation puts Washington on track to lead the West Coast in the 21st century.

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