Microsoft: ‘Avoid Further Reductions’ in Higher Ed Funding

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(Courtesy of Tech Flash)

Microsoft is weighing in on Gov. Gregoire’s recommendations to close a $2 billion state budget gap, and the Redmond tech giant is calling for state leaders to avoid more cuts to higher education funding.

In a corporate blog post Monday afternoon, Microsoft’s general counsel and senior vice president Brad Smith said “education is the foundation for the state’s future economic growth and the ability of companies to create and fill jobs” in the state.

“It’s important for the state to avoid further reductions in higher education funding, as these inevitably would lead either to a decline in quality or yet more tuition increases for students. It’s similarly important to maintain investments in K-12 education across the state, since additional cuts to the classroom and the school year would have a dramatic and damaging effect on student readiness for the 21st century economy,” Smith wrote.

Smith chaired Gregoire’s Higher Education Funding Task Force.

Microsoft has made higher education funding a priority, saying the issue is paramount to maintaining and expanding a highly skilled workforce. Microsoft and Boeing have pledged $25 million each to seed a scholarship program that is aimed at offsetting big jumps in tuition at UW and other state universities. The scholarships are aimed at students pursuing degrees in health care, manufacturing, science, mathematics and technology.

Part of Gregoire’s plan calls for a referendum for a temporary three-year, one-half cent increase in the state sales tax as part of a new proposal to balance the state budget.

Gregoire’s proposed sales tax increase would help make up for other proposed cuts, including $99 million saved in teacher salaries by shortening the K-12 school year by four days.

The proposed tax increase has already drawn fire from some state lawmakers.

“To talk about raising taxes at a time when people are out of work and can’t afford it suggests an insensitivity to what the citizens of this state are going through,” said Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, in a statement.

“A recent poll showed 64 percent of people in Washington said they are opposed to tax increases to solve the state’s budget problems – even to ‘buy back’ some of the governor’s cuts,” Hewitt said. “What makes the governor think people are going to change their minds between now and next March?”

Here is Smith’s statement:

We’re pleased that Governor Gregoire has prioritized education in her budget recommendations, given the difficult choices she faced among the many programs funded by the state. As we at Microsoft experience first-hand, education is the foundation for the state’s future economic growth and the ability of companies to create and fill jobs here. It’s important for the state to avoid further reductions in higher education funding, as these inevitably would lead either to a decline in quality or yet more tuition increases for students. It’s similarly important to maintain investments in K-12 education across the state, since additional cuts to the classroom and the school year would have a dramatic and damaging effect on student readiness for the 21st century economy.

While the importance of education makes this the right time to discuss funding options, it’s vital that the discussion focus not only on how much money should be spent, but on spending it as effectively as possible. This is a time when the state should be making strategic improvements to education policy to strengthen our K-12 system. We believe it is important for the special session to adopt outcome-based reforms that will help ensure that all Washington students receive a quality education. These steps will best ensure that any proposed increase in the sales tax will lead to real improvements in education and thereby deserve the public’s support in a referendum.”

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