Legislature reaches first cutoff, corrections education bill passed out of House committee
Today marks the Legislature’s first cutoff day — the point at which bills must be voted out of policy committees to continue in the legislative process. So far, the system-request corrections education bill was voted out of the House Higher Education Committee, as were bills on disability accommodations, bachelor’s degrees at community and technical colleges, and programs that would fund tuition for qualified students.
Washington Promise Program bill heard by House committee
Feb. 3— Representatives took up the Washington Promise Program at Thursday’s House Higher Education Committee hearing. HB 2820 would provide free community and technical college tuition and fees to eligible students. Students would have to be enrolled in an associate degree program, a transfer program, or a professional-technical program that leads to a postsecondary credential.
Rep. Gerry Pollet, prime sponsor of the bill, testified in support.
“Opening the door to free community college for Washington residents is a research and data-proven way to boost high school graduation rates,” he said. “And it opens the door to success for so many families in the state of Washington by allowing them to return to school and get that career-changing workforce certificate or their AA degree that will entirely change the security of their families forever.”
Marty Brown, SBCTC’s executive director, spoke in favor of the program. He told committee members that the definition of basic education has changed since Washington became a state.
“I think this may not happen this year, but eventually we need to have the discussion of what is 14 years of education, what’s 16 years of education, what’s potentially 20 years of education that’s needed for good citizenship, for the economy and for the goodwill of the individual students of our state, and this is the first step. This is a great concept,” he said.
Brown was joined by Dr. Warren Brown, president of North Seattle College, Faline Jett, a student at North Seattle College, and Stu Halsan, a Centralia College trustee and attorney.
“What we do know is that the college promise programs actually have shown an increase in the college-going rate for students,” Warren Brown said. “Here’s an opportunity for a research-based approach that we know increases student access and completion.”
Jett told committee members how a program like the Washington Promise Program would help her and students in similar situations.
“If HB 2820 passes, students like me will no longer have to choose between food and getting an education,” she said.
Halsan gave the committee his perspective on how the Promise Program would help students in rural areas like Lewis County.
“We need to break out and address that opportunity gap that we have there [in Lewis County], and HB 2820, I think, is a wonderful way to do that,” he said.
Ed Parks, a member of the South Seattle College Foundation board, and Monica Elenes, a student at South Seattle College, discussed the success of a similar program called the 13th Year Promise Scholarship. The program funds one year of in-state tuition at South Seattle College for graduates of Chief Sealth, Cleveland and Rainier Beach high schools.
“We’re getting kids who don’t necessarily have a plan to go to school. It works,” Park said. “We would love to see the Washington Promise Program implemented.”
Elenes is a graduate of Cleveland High School and a recipient of a 13th Year Promise Scholarship.
“South Seattle presented at my high school, Cleveland, and, I kid you not, so many students faces changed. And the reaction of that change was that a lot of my friends from Cleveland, from Rainier Beach and from Chief Sealth are now at South Seattle talking about their education, where they’re going to go in their future and where they see themselves,” she said. “Programs like this are what we need to sustain, to keep us going, to not just think work is what we have to do but we can make a difference.”
Free to Finish College Program announced at press conference
Feb. 3 — Representatives of two- and four-year colleges and universities joined members of the House and Senate Thursday to announce the “Free to Finish College” proposal. The proposal would allow some former students to re-enroll in college and finish their degrees — tuition free. The proposal would cover students who are not currently enrolled and haven’t been enrolled for the last three years, don’t have a college degree or certificate, and are 15 credits or less — one quarter’s worth of credits — from earning a degree or certificate.
Rep. Drew Hansen, prime sponsor of HB 2955, introduced the measure at a press conference.
“This is a commitment by us to make an offer to students who have to stop short and interrupt their studies to make it easier for them to come back and finish their degree,” he said. “We want to send a very clear message to these students that we want them to come back and finish that degree so they can have better jobs and a better chance to support their families.”
Dr. Lonnie Howard, president of Clover Park Technical College, spoke on behalf of the community and technical college system.
“We really think there is a tremendous upside to it in that, at the two-year college level, $1,000 can really make a tremendous value and in-roads into helping our students complete,” he said. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity that we can really begin to not just help the students, but if Washington will continue to grow economically, we have to have students who are prepared with 21st century skills.”
Also speaking at the press conference were Dr. James Gaudino, president of Central Washington University, and Dr. George Bridges, president The Evergreen State College.
The House Higher Education Committee took public testimony on the bill at its hearing that afternoon, and passed the bill out of committee on Feb. 5.
House committee takes up bills on corrections education, disability accommodations and bachelor’s degrees
Feb. 2 — The House Higher Education Committee took up three bills of significance to the community and technical college system. On the agenda were: the system-request bill on corrections education, a bill on accommodations for students with disabilities and a bill that would create a pilot program for bachelor’s degrees at the colleges.
College degrees in prisons
The committee first heard HB 2619, which would allow colleges to offer associate and bachelor’s degrees in prisons using existing state resources. The college system-request bill received wide support from testifiers.
Rep. Larry Haler, the committee’s assistant ranking minority member and the bill’s prime sponsor, told his fellow committee members why he’s supporting the issue.
“I think this is important from the standpoint that this does offer hope to people who often do not have hope,” he said. “And if you can offer somebody hope for the future, and if they can do well in their studies — particularly if you need a second chance in life — I think this will provide that.”
Nova Gattman, legislative director for the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, emphasized the importance of providing educational opportunities to inmates.
“There is a clear connection between corrections education and the ability of ex-offenders to land jobs and successfully relaunch their lives,” she said. “It’s critical we do what we can to prepare these individuals with the tools they need to be successful upon reentry to their communities.”
Edward Parnel, a former inmate who earned an associate degree while incarcerated through a grant from The Sunshine Lady Foundation, told committee members how education changed his life.
“I spring boarded back out into the real world, and today, I’m a successful college student,” he said. “In the spring I’ll graduate from Evergreen with a double degree of a Bachelor of Arts with a primary focus in molecular biology and organic chemistry. Not bad for a guy two years ago when you Googled his name, the only thing that came up was ‘busted for distribution of methamphetamine.’”
Parnel also testified before the Senate Higher Education Committee on Jan. 28 on the Senate version of the corrections-education bill.
Also testifying in favor was Arlen Harris, SBCTC’s legislative director, Michael Paris, education services administrator for the Department of Corrections, Maddy Thompson, director of policy and government relations for the Washington Student Achievement Council, and representatives of faith-based organizations.
Disability accommodations for students
Also at its Tuesday hearing, the Higher Education Committee heard testimony on HB 2825, a bill which would create a common disabilities application form to be used by colleges and universities in determining a student’s eligibility for accommodations. The bill would also require colleges and universities to notify transfer students with a disability of that student’s eligibility to receive the same core services that the student received at the previous institution.
Rep. Noel Frame, the bill’s prime sponsor and member of the Higher Education Committee, spoke in its favor.
“The goal is really to reduce barriers and we do that by first having a common application, and second, really trying to reduce or eliminate that re-documentation of a disability, which, when we talk to students we heard that that can not only be time-consuming but often cost prohibitive,” she said.
Scott Copeland, SBCTC student services policy associate, testified on behalf of the college system.
“We are very, very interested in transition and as seamless as possible for our students,” he said.
Also testifying was Toby Olson, the executive secretary of the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment. He told committee members that current policies related to disability accommodations are often a barrier to students finishing their education. He called the policies and practices “inconsistent, confusing and conflicting, and occasionally excessive.”
“This bill helps us move forward toward establishing clearer procedures and procedures that are more consistently in accord with the letter and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he said.
Bachelor’s degrees at community and technical colleges
Finally, the committee took up HB 2769, a bill that would create a pilot program for up to five community and technical colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields of study. Marty Brown, SBCTC’s executive director, told committee members that the bill is necessary in order to fully implement the 2015-17 operating budget, which earmarked money for Bellevue College to start a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Currently, under state law, community and technical colleges may only offer applied bachelor’s degrees.
“Applied baccalaureates are developed at our community [and technical] colleges and provide a clear pathway for students who may be place-bound or have difficulty finding transfer opportunities for technical and associate degrees,” Brown said. “However, in today’s economy, applied bachelor’s are not enough.”
Brown was joined by Steve Miller, chair of the Bellevue College board of trustees, and Dr. David Rule, president of Bellevue College.
“The state must find innovative ways to prepare students for high demand fields for the future that are cheaper and faster for the state, cheaper and faster for its students,” Miller said. “HB 2769 is one of the ways that this can be done.”
Rule testified next, underscoring the idea that bachelor’s degrees are necessary for the economic health of the state.
“We know we need to produce more baccalaureates throughout the state in these high demand areas. The community and technical colleges, and Bellevue specifically, are ideally suited to fill this gap,” he said. “We’re fulfilling the local demands of our local students and our local businesses. That’s still our mission regardless of what the degree level is.”
System bill status
- SHB 2329: “Including certain residents who do not have a high school diploma or credential and the number of students expected to enroll in basic education for adults courses at community and technical colleges in caseload forecast council forecasting” passed the House Higher Education Committee on Jan. 22.
- HB 2619: “Providing postsecondary education to enhance education opportunities and public safety” passed the House Higher Education Committee on Feb. 3.
- HB 2769 “Creating a pilot program for community and technical colleges to offer bachelor degrees” passed the House Higher Education Committee on Feb. 5.
- SSB 6161: “Including certain residents who do not have a high school diploma or credential and the number of students expected to enroll in basic education for adults courses at community and technical colleges in caseload forecast council forecasting” passed the Senate Higher Education Committee on Jan. 27.
- SB 6260: “Providing postsecondary education to enhance education opportunities and public safety” passed the Senate Higher Education Committee on Feb. 2.
Coming up next week
Next week begins debate on bills in the Senate and House chambers. Bills passed by each chamber will move to the opposite chamber for its consideration. Fiscal committees will also be hard at work Monday and Tuesday hearing and voting on bills before Tuesday’s cutoff.
The community and technical college system continues to monitor bills of significance and to work with lawmakers on the system’s operating and capital budget requests.