Washington lawmakers propose free community college

Proposal echoes President Obama’s call for free community college, which has not yet been implemented by Congress

community-collegeTuition at community and technical colleges in Washington would be free for state residents without a bachelor’s degree under a proposal announced Jan. 19 by a group of Democratic lawmakers.

Some qualifying students could also get a stipend for books and other expenses based on family income, lawmakers said at a news conference. The plan would apply to part-time students, too.

“We know that a high school diploma, while still foundational for every student, is simply not enough,” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle.

A way to pay for the free tuition hasn’t been offered yet. It’s estimated by nonpartisan staff at the Legislature to cost between $94 million and $105 million in 2017, if implemented, and the price tag would increase if more students enroll in the state’s community and technical colleges. Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, floated the idea of closing tax exemptions as one way to pay for tuition money.

But there aren’t infinite tax exemptions to close, especially if lawmakers want to eliminate tax loopholes to increase money for other legislative priorities such as basic education and the state’s mental health system, said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican from Ritzville.

Next page: The debate around free community college continues

Laura Ascione

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