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Originally published Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 9:34 PM

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Washington state education leaders lament major budget cuts

Class sizes in kindergarten through fourth grade would increase to 26 or 27 students per classroom, and about 1,500 teachers would lose their jobs under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

Class sizes in kindergarten through fourth grade would grow and about 1,500 teachers could lose their jobs under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget, state Superintendent Randy Dorn said Wednesday.

For college students, tuition at the University of Washington and other state universities would jump 11 percent a year for two years, and by 9 percent a year at state community colleges. But the increases still wouldn't be enough to make up for cutbacks in state higher-education funding.

Education leaders on Wednesday kept coming up with the same word for Gregoire's proposal: devastating.

Dorn said K-4 class sizes could increase to 26 or 27 students. Currently, class size in the earliest grades is about 23 students, depending on the school and the district.

Larger classes would save the state $216 million, but would have a profound effect on student achievement, he said.

The state began funding smaller classes in the early grades about 20 years ago after research showed that lowering class size was "a great investment — it paid off in the future with higher graduation rates, higher literacy, all those positive things," Dorn said.

He said the proposed budget also cuts dropout-prevention assistance and other programs that aim to erase the achievement gap. "Literally, the services that help kids get through school are the things that are getting cut," he said.

Some districts would likely go back to voters to ask for more money to backfill state cuts, but many poorer districts can't count on voters to help out, said Chris Korsmo, executive director of the League of Education Voters. That means education would become more inequitable from district to district, she said.

In higher education, tuition would jump 11 percent each year at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University. The Evergreen State College and Central and Eastern universities would see tuition increase by 10 percent a year, while community and technical colleges would increase by about 9 percent each year.

The budget would reduce state support of higher education by about 4.2 percent — that's the portion not backfilled with tuition money.

The UW has asked a governor's task force on higher education to consider allowing universities to use differentiated tuition pricing, said UW Vice President Randy Hodgins.

Under that model, the universities would charge higher tuition for students seeking degrees in high-demand fields, such as the sciences or engineering. It can cost more to educate a student in those fields, but that student will often find a job faster and make more money upon graduation than a student who majors in another field, such as English.

Under Gregoire's budget, state aid to help lower-income students pay for college would be increased by $92 million. But even with the additional tuition dollars, colleges and universities will see more than $220 million in cuts.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com

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