Washington lawmakers propose free community college

“How are they going to pay for it, I mean really?” he said of the proposal, deemed the “Washington promise program,” at a separate news conference.

Democrats stressed there would be a return on investing in free community college when there are more Washington students qualified for skilled jobs. They estimated the plan would increase enrollment in community colleges by 5 percent to 9 percent.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, emphasized the proposal would be a boon for middle-class people who don’t quite qualify for financial aid. The program would give students money to cover what all other sources of financial aid, like the federal Pell grant program, don’t pay for.

“There are a lot of people who are not rich and not poor who are going to be helped by this,” he said.

At least two Republicans, Rep. Hans Zeiger from Puyallup and Sen. Michael Baumgartner from Spokane, will co-sponsor the Washington promise program bills in the House and Senate.

Efforts around the country to make community college free for students have had varying results.

Last year, President Barack Obama proposed making community college free, but the proposal has not been implemented by Congress.

Three states have created free community college programs since 2014: Minnesota, Oregon and Tennessee, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. At least 11 other states introduced legislation to create similar programs in 2015.

The Legislature cut tuition at the state’s four year colleges and universities last session by 15 to 20 percent over two years and by 5 percent for two-year schools. That cut was a legislative priority for Republicans.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Laura Ascione

"(Required)" indicates required fields