by Reed Klein
“Two-four-six-eight! We just want to graduate!” chanted students and community members alike at the protest to Governor Gregoire’s budget on the morning of Feb. 15, in front of the State Capitol Building in Olympia. The steam of their breath could be seen everywhere as they talked and laughed around the empty fountain on the State Capitol campus, waiting to march onto the steps of the large, domed Legislative Building.
In all, thousands of people rallied to protest the potential cuts to financial aid, as well as the elimination of Work Study, which allows students to work part-time around campus to pay for tuition.
Work Study students are already in financial instability, said Kristina Blake, a Whatcom student in Work Study. Taking out a loan to pay for school, she said, would be perilous.
Blake and other WCC students, along with those of Bellingham Technical College and Skagit Valley Community College, rode a bus to the Monday morning rally. After a three hour bus ride they joined community members from across the state in opposition of Gregoire’s budget proposal.
“The education budget is less than admirable already,” said Richard Bruno, another Work Study student at Whatcom who went to Olympia. “The strain of the economy already has a greater strain on schools,” and this budget, Bruno said, just makes it incredibly worse.
On Gregoire’s Web site, www.governor.wa.gov, she said, “Let me be very clear: I do not support this budget. As required by law, it is balanced. For me, it is unjust.”
She is not alone in that sentiment.
Opponents to the budget see the cut of Work Study as not only detrimental to students who need the Work Study job to pay for school, but to the whole school system in general : fewer people would be able to afford school; schools would have to cut back spending; basic amenities and resources like the Writing Center could suffer from a lower source of school income.
Whatcom is expected to lose $238,000 from its operating budget if the budget passes, and offices around campus will be strained without their Work Study students.
Caroline Jovag, an employee in the registration office, says that there is no money for employees to work overtime – the help they receive from Work Study students is crucial to maintaining timely and orderly responses to student’s needs. Without Work Study students in almost every office, long lines and crowds would ensue.
“The education struggle is hard enough,” said Jay Wiitala, a Whatcom student who does not receive financial aid or participate in Work Study. He came to Olympia in support of his peers. “They won’t have the opportunity to succeed if Work Study is cut.
Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition, a hub of dozens of private interest groups interested in Washington State reform, proposed and organized the protest.
It wasn’t only students who participated in the protest. People of all ages came to the rally, from those in strollers to those with walking canes.
“We’re mortgaging our future,” said Pat Montgomery, an older man who wore his red, white, and blue shirt to the rally. “We must cut services in the budget, but not education.”
Montgomery and others at the rally showed strong support to start raising revenue taxes, flapping their signs and shouting from the big steps of the State Capitol. Depending on the revisions Washington State legislators decide and what Governor Gregoire vetoes, the budget is expected to be passed between April and May.