University of Washington students from the Bothell, Seattle, and Tacoma campuses met with lawmakers on Monday to lobby for support of higher education bills during the annual Huskies on the Hill lobby day.
The Associated Students of the University of Washington asked their legislators to fully fund the State Need Grant which, they said, is underfunded by $85 million. Diversity and undocumented students’ rights were at issue as well. Kendra Canton, director of diversity efforts at ASUW Seattle, said she came to Olympia in support of undocumented students who may have been unable to join for fear of revealing their status. A State Need Grant and Washington Opportunity Scholarship recipient, Canton said state funding is essential to undocumented and minority students.
“It is my duty to be here and help those students because the things they are fighting for have helped me so much,” she said.
There are nearly 22,000 college students across the state, not only at UW campuses, that would otherwise qualify for the grant but cannot receive it, according to Courtney Acitelli, director of alumni association UW Impact. She said the group is urging lawmakers to fully fund the grant using the operating budget.
Acitelli also said the group is asking lawmakers to pay for 50 percent of UW’s employee compensation expenses as it does for five other universities. UW currently receives just 34 percent funding from the state. She said a tuition increase to raise the 16 percent of additional funding is not an option because it would put an unfair burden on students.
The capital budget recently passed by lawmakers includes funding for a new college of engineering building, a new science, technology, engineering, and math teaching building at UW Bothell, and construction for a new Population Health and Health Sciences learning facility.
The students also spoke with lawmakers in support of SB 6029, which would establish a student loan bill of rights and a student loan advocate. The ASUW legislative agenda says this bill would establish parameters to protect students from high interest rates on loans.
The group also supports two bills that would establish mental health resources on campus. HB 2513 would provide resources for behavioral health and suicide prevention training. And HB 1737 would establish a mental health counselor for students who are veterans.
Textbooks are also on the students’ agenda. HB 1561 would establish grant programs to create open source resources, like textbooks and other materials. The bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, Jan. 18.
In addition to meeting with legislators, the ASUW students and alumni met with Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib and Governor Jay Inslee.
Habib told students that he faced adversity growing up blind and as an Iranian. Issues of immigration, race, and higher education are related, he said, and urged the students to keep fighting for equity with that in mind. He said funding the State Need Grant and programs for students facing homelessness is a priority.
Inslee said that the state has done more than ever before for funding K-12 education and now is the time to fund higher education for low income communities. He also took the opportunity to promote his proposed carbon tax, urging the students to speak to their representatives about climate change.
This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.