Focus of state financial aid should be on low-income students
The Washington State Legislature is in the last week of the regular lawmaking session. The budget proposals recently offered by the governor and leaders of the House and Senate unfairly penalize low-income, private institution students.
Our state has a long commitment to help low-income students access higher education and the state's primary assistance, the State Need Grant, is available to all students attending an accredited institution whether public or private. Policymakers have historically respected the choice of individuals about which school or program best serves their higher education needs.
Under the budgets currently being considered, the State Need Grant award for students selecting private institutions will be lower than if those students selected public institutions.
In these days of cuts to higher education, the highest priority should be preserving access for low-income students. I believe that the best assurance of individual liberty and self sufficiency is a quality education.
The state's interest in financial aid is to help those less-fortunate to access the higher education necessary to improve their situation, not to stimulate the growth of public institutions. Lawmakers should not use financial aid policy for other purposes.
When we face the real prospect of public institutions being unable to serve all who apply, why would we want to make it more difficult for low-income students to access private colleges? To meet the demand for degree production, we are going to need thriving public and private institutions, or we run the risk of exporting our brightest students to institutions elsewhere.
To stop this bad precedent of making private institution students second-class citizens, I am proposing an amendment to the state budget which would restore the equal treatment for low-income students. The budget will be under consideration for the next week, and I hope you will lend your support to the adoption of the amendment to restore parity to private college students.
For more information about letting your thoughts be known, check out http://www.leg.wa.gov/lic/hotline.htm or feel free to contact my office at 360-786-7986.
(Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, is the ranking Republican on the House Early Learning and Children's Services Committee. He also serves on the Education Appropriations Committee and the Higher Education Committee.)