April 3 marks the 85th day of the of the 105-day 2023 legislative session. Initial House and Senate operating and capital budgets have been released, and they contain thoughtful and strategic investments for Evergreen. Compensation increases, money to renovate Sem I and some funding to expand prison education are among the highlights in both versions. Differences between them need to be negotiated and reconciled by the end of the session on April 23 to produce the final biennial budget.
The best place to view the different budget proposals is Washington’s fiscal information website, where you can go to “Latest Budget Proposals.” Click on the budget bill links. You can search the PDFs by using control-F, and then entering “The Evergreen State College,” using arrows to scroll through the documents.
These budget proposals are an important measure of how we’re doing and how we’re communicating our vision of Evergreen’s past, present and future to the state’s leaders. They reflect dozens of personal conversations we have been having with legislators about the progress Evergreen is making and our ambitions for our amazing students, faculty and staff.
On the heels of our public testimony and personal diplomacy earlier that week, the Senate Ways and Means capital budget committee voted on March 22 to strike an unusual capital budget proviso that would have mandated a group to study enrollment at Evergreen. The proviso would have complicated and in some ways duplicated the hard work already underway to raise enrollment. Senator Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), who represents Evergreen’s district, was the legislator who made the successful amendment to strike the proviso.
The additional good news is that the door is open to have some positive engagement over the coming months with the vice-chair and ranking member of that committee, Senators Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) and Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville). They are eager to see Evergreen continue to add students.
There is still some distance to go before a state budget is finalized. That's why we are still working hard to secure 1) additional funding for enrollment and student success initiatives; and 2) to improve the modernization of our IT systems. The House budget would provide funds for the first item and the Senate for the second.
While budgets have been the main arena for advocacy and action, there have been some highlights in other areas. Last week, the governor signed SB 5079, which requires the state to set any increase in resident tuition operating fees by October 1 each year for the following academic year. Previously, the state’s Office of Financial management provided this information in May the same year. That meant we couldn’t provide prospective students with the exact cost of tuition when we usually mail acceptance letters earlier in the year. This legislation eliminates that problem.
Last week, incoming Evergreen freshman wrestling champion Amari Brown offered his third testimony in favor of SSB 5687, which would offer grants to colleges to establish and support intercollegiate women’s and men’s wrestling. Evergreen’s women’s and men’s programs begin this fall. Legislators have credited Amari with getting this bill through the Senate and through the House higher education committee. It was passed on April 1 by the House appropriations committee and is now with the House rules committee for consideration.