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Washington Promise Program, tax exemption bill heard as committees head to first cutoff

February 10, 2017 by SBCTC Communications

With one week until the first cutoff date of the 2017 session, policy committees were hard at work hearing and voting on bills to continue them on in the legislative process. The Washington Promise Program, which would provide free community and technical college tuition to eligible students, highlighted Wednesday’s House Higher Education Committee hearing.

In the Senate, the Higher Education Committee took up the system-request bill that would exempt private companies leasing space from colleges for operating services like cafeterias and bookstores from paying a leasehold excise tax to the state.

Washington Promise Program heard in House Higher Education

Feb. 8 — The Washington Promise Program took center stage at Wednesday’s House Higher Education Committee hearing. The bill, if approved, would provide free community and technical college tuition and fees to eligible students. It also creates a four-step phase-in process for the program based on when a student received a high school diploma or equivalent and family income level, and provides a $1,500 cost of attendance stipend for students who have a family income that does not exceed 70 percent of the state median family income.

Rep. Gerry Pollet, the bill’s prime sponsor and the Higher Education Committee’s vice chair, told fellow committee members why he supports the measure.

“We talk about the 740,000 jobs that need degrees and the goal of 70 percent of our state residents to have post-high school certificates and degrees. How do we get there? We have to increase access,” he said. “If you are qualified for the state need grant, you will know that the door is open to you, and that is a major step forward.”

Marty Brown, executive director of the State Board, Gary Oertli, president of South Seattle College, and Warren Brown, president of North Seattle College, testified on behalf of the college system.

“The Washington Promise is a really huge step forward in making college more affordable for Washington students and their families,” Marty Brown said. “We believe the measure brings hope to many who find higher education too expensive.”

South Seattle College provides graduates of its local high schools with a 13th Year Promise Scholarship, which funds their first year at the college. Many of the bill’s items, Oertli said, are modeled after South’s scholarship. Since its implementation, the college has seen triple enrollment from those high schools.

“Most importantly, the students going through this program, their completion and retention rate is double of our normal student population,” he said.

Warren Brown told committee members how state support for a program like the Washington Promise works well because of the state’s ability to integrate and leverage funding sources.

“That’s a role that uniquely the state plays, versus a city or a county or even a private foundation. It matters a lot to the students, but it really matters to the economic viability of the State of Washington,” he said.

Brown and the presidents were joined in their support for the bill by six students from South and North Seattle colleges.

Representatives also took testimony on HB 1733, the bill would allow a technical college to award high school diplomas to students who have completed an associate degree through the Technical College Direct Funded Enrollment Program. Students now have to wait until they turn 21 before they receive their high school diploma.

Committee members heard from Cindy Wilson, policy associate with Basic Education for Adults at the State Board; Amy Morrison Goings, president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and Kim Infinger; principal of Lake Washington Technical Academy and dean of high school programs.

“This bill provides equity for a group of students who up until this point have been overlooked,” Wilson said. “The students enrolled in the technical colleges’ direct-funded high schools bear a striking resemblance to our Running Start students in two important ways: their age and their educational goal.”

The bill affects students enrolled at Lake Washington Technical Academy at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Northwest Career and Technical High School at Clover Park Technical College, and Technical High School at Bates Technical College.

“The impact of this legislation as we might imagine is not widespread but certainly all we have been talking about in the higher education community is the impact of this incredible skills gap and talent gap that our region is facing currently,” Goings said. “This legislation would remove a needless barrier to our hardworking and diligent technical academy students by allowing them to receive their high school diploma which is often a barrier with our high stakes testing in Washington state.”

MESA Community College program, leasehold excise tax bill heard by Senate committee

Feb. 7 — Senators on the Higher Education Committee were busy Tuesday hearing issues closely tied to the community and technical college system. Up first was a group of three students in Olympia for State Need Grant Lobby Day. Kate Hummel, student body president at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom and State Board legislative intern, spoke on behalf of community and technical college students. She told senators of the effect the grant has on the 69,000 students it serves and the 24,000 eligible students left unserved.

“At Pierce College, we have so many students who come up to me pretty regularly and talk to me about concerns and their desires. One of their biggest concerns is, of course always, financial aid and how they’re going to pay for their college,” she said. “These students – they’re real people that we see every day. This is such a big thing for them.”

The committee then held a confirmation hearing for Amadeo Tiam, a trustee at Pierce College, voting for his approval. Tiam’s confirmation now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.

Senators also heard from a panel discussing the MESA Community College program: James Dorsey, executive director of Washington MESA and MESA USA president; Abel Pacheco, director of strategic engagement for Washington MESA and an alumnus of the program; Jeff Wagnitz, acting president and academic vice president at Highline College; and Barron Willis, chair of MESA board of directors.

The MESA Community College program helps under-represented community college students excel in school and ultimately earn STEM bachelor’s degrees. MESA, which stands for Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement, consists of a program serving K-12 schools and one for community and technical college students. $7.3 million of the system’s 2017-19 operating budget request would expand the program from the current six host colleges to all 34 colleges.

“Part of MESA’s mission — part of MESA’s structure — is industry education partnerships,” Dorsey said. “We have a subset of industry partners that support what goes on in our four-year and transfer institutions and helping these young people get through the process. But not only get through the process of a STEM education, but also expose them to STEM career opportunities, internships, scholarships, and also providing that peer mentorship that the students need.”

By participating in the MESA Community College program, students are more likely to persist, transfer to a university, and earn a STEM-related bachelor’s degree than other under-represented students pursuing STEM studies at those colleges.

“It’s a little unusual for us, I think, to ask for support for a program, or an intervention, or a dissemination, broadening, replication of a program in this budget cycle, but it really makes sense to us as a community college system to expand the opportunities of MESA to the other campuses,” said Wagnitz. Highline College is one of the six colleges which hosts a MESA program.

Last on the committee’s agenda for the day was SB 5677, which would exempt leaseholders on college and university campuses from paying leasehold excise taxes to the state. Under current law, property leased to private entities by the state, counties, school districts and other municipal corporations are exempt from leasehold excise taxes. Schools, colleges and universities do not have that exemption. If enacted, this bill would exempt property leased to private companies which operate cafeterias, bookstores, and maintenance, operation and administrative services.

“Several of our colleges have determined that these services can be more effectively provided by an outside vendor. These services are only offered to our students as a service to our students,” said John Boesenberg, deputy executive director of business operations at the State Board.

Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College, told senators a leasehold excise tax would ultimately affect students. SPSCC leases its bookstore operations to Barnes and Noble and now faces a $15,000 tax which is on appeal with the Department of Revenue.

“Paying this leasehold excise tax would increase book prices approximately 7.5 percent for students. That would mean approximately $26.25 per textbook and a STEM student would increase of approximately $18.75,” he said.

The bill was passed out of the Higher Education Committee on Feb. 9 and now heads to the Ways and Means Committee for its consideration.

Suicide prevention, student success bills taken up in House Higher Education Committee

Feb. 7 — The House Higher Education Committee heard two bills affecting the community and technical college system at its hearing Tuesday. HB 1379 addresses suicide prevention and behavioral health at colleges and universities. The bill is the result of some of the recommendations made by a suicide prevention task force, which briefed the committee on its findings the first week of session. It would do three things:

  • Requires creation of a statewide resource for post-secondary institutions that would include free curriculum train faculty, staff and students in suicide recognition and referral skills in addition to “train the trainer” curriculum.
  • Creates a grant program to fund post-secondary institutions crisis plans and programs
  • Requires data collection of annual reports to the Department of Health.

Rep. Tina Orwall, the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke in favor of the bill.

“Our higher ed institutions really have two high-risk groups: they have young adults and veterans,” she said. “We need to have good data, we need to have some capacity around mental health and mental health services, and we need some innovative partnerships in ways like with crisis clinics and higher education.”

Testifying on behalf of the community and technical college system was Edward Esparza, a student services policy associate with the State Board who served on the suicide prevention task force, and Scott Latiolais, dean of student success at Renton Technical College.

“To not be able to have resources as such to address an important issue, we believe, by our participation, we need to work toward establishing protocols, resources and infrastructure throughout our system,” Esparza said.

Latiolais, who also serves as president of the Advising and Counseling Council of the Washington State Student Services Commission, told committee members that RTC’s mental health cases are on the rise.

“RTC has no dedicated mental health counselor on campus, and we are not the exception,” he said. “We quite regularly run into instances where we have students who have needs that we just can’t meet on campus.”

The last bill heard by the Higher Education Committee was HB 1651, which would affect public universities and the community and technical college system. The bill would implement student success programs for all community and technical college students in degree-granting programs and require colleges to use evidence-based programs like I-BEST for all students who take pre-college courses.

Rep. Gerry Pollet, vice chair of the Higher Education Committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke in favor of its passage.

“This bill represents a couple of years of work with all of the institutions on pulling together the best evidence-based approaches to doing what we as a committee have spent a lot of time working toward, which is improving the high-school-to-college-enrollment, the first-year to second-year retention, ongoing retention, and degree completion,” he said.

Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, told committee members that $81 million of the college system’s operating budget request would support student success and wraparound services with the intent of closing the skills gap and preparing students for the workforce. He expressed concerns that the bill would define specific courses, methods or content, making colleges less able to quickly respond to best practices.

“Student service programs need to be dynamic, and I think one of the things we celebrate with you when we talk to you as the Legislature is the flexibility that the community and technical colleges have to be able to respond to economic demands, community demands, especially, across our state,” he said.

Coming up next week

Friday marks the first cutoff date of the 2017 session: bills must be voted out of their policy committees by the end of the day in order to continue on in the legislative process. Two system-request bills are up for hearings: the House Appropriations Committee will hear SHB 1129, which would allow prison inmates to earn associate degrees, while House Finance will take up HB 1913, the leasehold excise tax exemption for colleges and universities.

Last Modified: 2/9/18 11:31 AM
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