College system-requested bills passed, others up for hearings as policy committees reach cutoff
Today marks the first cutoff of the 2017 session: bills in policy committees must be approved by that committee in order to continue on in the legislative process. The House version of the leasehold excise tax exemption bill was up for a hearing while the House version of the corrections education bill was heard before the House Appropriations Committee.
Two system-request bills were passed out of the bill’s originating house this week: the Senate passed a bill 46-0 that would allow workforce associate degrees to be offered in prisons while the House passed a bill 97-0 that would make the Customized Training Program permanent.
Leasehold excise tax exemption bill considered in House Appropriations
Feb. 17 — Up for a hearing in the House Finance Committee today was the system-requested bill that would exempt colleges from paying a leasehold excise tax to the state Department of Revenue on property leased to vendors who provide bookstore, food or administrative services to the college. The companion bill was heard in the Senate Higher Education Committee Feb. 7.
Rep. Laurie Dolan testified on behalf of the bill. She serves as the bill’s prime sponsor and is a member of the Finance Committee. She told the committee that a leasehold excise tax bill came as a surprise for the colleges who lease bookstore services to outside vendors.
“Obviously, if they knew about it, they could build this tax into what kids pay to buy their books in the bookstore,” she said. “That’s an easy thing – they could certainly run it down, but then it gets to the kids and kids are paying more for books so that the community colleges can turn around and pay this tax to DOR.”
Dolan continued saying that students already spend a lot on textbooks, so an additional fee to accommodate the new leasehold excise tax could become a burden. The community and technical college system wanted representatives to explore if that’s a path the membership wanted to take, she said.
Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, and Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College, testified in favor of the bill.
“The interpretation from the Department of Revenue is that this is more than a service contract; that this is a public entity doing for-profit business on state property,” Harris said. “We’re asking the Legislature to clarify and provide this leasehold excise tax exemption because that’s what our colleges have been charged.”
Stokes told committee members how the leasehold excise tax affects South Puget Sound, which contracts with Barnes and Noble to provide its bookstore service. The college received a tax bill of about $15,000. Paying that tax would mean increased costs to students, Stokes said.
“That means for a nursing student, the average textbook would increase $26.25 and a STEM textbook in any of the sciences, engineering or computer science would increase, on average, $18.75,” he said. “That may not sound like a lot, but when you have 44 percent of your students on financial aid and over 1,600 students on State Need Grant, it does impact our students directly.”
Trustee confirmations heard in Senate Higher Education
Feb. 17 — The Senate Higher Education Committee held hearings and voted for approval of four community and technical college trustees. The appointments now to go the full Senate for confirmation. The trustees were:
- Harold Withrow, Clover Park Technical College
- Michael Kelly, Cascadia College
- Nancee Hofmeister, Cascadia College
- Timothy Burt, Walla Walla Community College
System-requested corrections education bill heard in House Appropriations
Feb. 15 — Members of the House Appropriations Committee took up consideration of the college system-requested corrections education bill, which would allow inmates to earn an associate degree while incarcerated. The bill, which unanimously passed out of the House Higher Education Committee on Jan. 24, headed to the Appropriations Committee despite it having no fiscal impact as all education would be funded through existing appropriations to the Department of Corrections.
Rep. Larry Haler, the bill’s prime sponsor and member of the Higher Education and Appropriations committees, spoke in favor of the bill.
“It’s a good bill from the standpoint that it could potentially cut down our recidivism,” he said. “Those prisoners that are getting out in the near future would also have an education to fall back on. It would also be able to demonstrate that they would have an employable skill or at least employable knowledge that an employer can use.”
Speaking in favor of the bill’s passage was Mike Paris, educational administrator with the Department of Corrections, and Brian Walsh, policy associate for corrections education with the State Board.
“Washington state has become one of the finest education programs because of the excellent partnership we have with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the colleges’ staff and faculty we have working inside the prisons along with the real generous support from non-profits and volunteers,” Paris said. “The programs we offer would be stronger if this bill were to be passed.”
Walsh reiterated that the bill had no financial impact since all programs would be offered using existing funds.
“We’re able to this because we will provide degrees without increasing costs by rebalancing our enrollments and by delaying the start of new cohorts,” he said.
As the need for basic skills and basic education has decreased, Walsh said, that funding can go to associate degree programs that would be offered if this bill becomes law. Additionally, students would need to attend one or two additional quarters to complete a degree, which means the start of new student cohorts would be delayed.
Skilled worker program, high school equivalency bills topics of Senate Higher Education hearing
Feb. 14 — A bill that would create a skilled worker program and another that would require the college system to identify a second high school equivalency test were up for hearings at Tuesday’s Senate Higher Education Committee hearing.
SB 5713 would create the Skilled Worker Outreach, Recruitment and Key Training Program which would award matching grants to eligible applicants as a way to increase skilled workforce. The program would be administered by the Department of Commerce in coordination with the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.
Sen. Guy Palumbo, the bill’s prime sponsor and ranking minority member of the Higher Education Committee, spoke in its favor.
“I love this bill,” he said. “It’s a public-private partnership, so you’re leveraging public money and private money. We’re getting a better ban for our money as taxpayers. But also, some of the most powerful things that we can do to get kids into high-demand fields is to have them actually touch it, feel it, smell it when they’re younger.”
Peter Guzman, a workforce education policy associate at the State Board, testified with concerns. The program created by the bill, Guzman told senators, appeared redundant to the Job Skills Program administered by the State Board.
“The community and technical college system supports narrowing skills gaps and addressing industry worker shortage needs required for a robust economy,” he said. “That particular job skills training program over the past 30 years has proven to be successful, accessible and responsive to industry needs by providing short-term, job-specific training for new and incumbent workers in our growth industry sectors.”
The bill passed out of the Senate Higher Education Committee Feb. 16 with an amendment that changes the term “key training program” to “career awareness training program.” The amended bill also adds pre-apprenticeship to the training program.
Last on the Senate Higher Education Committee agenda for the day was SB 5731, which directs the State Board to identify at least two high school equivalency tests. The GED® test is in place as the state’s high school equivalency test.
Sen. David Frockt, one of the bill’s co-sponsors and member of the Higher Education Committee, spoke in favor of its passage. He cited lower GED® participation and passage rates as his reason for signing on.
“I think the point is I’m interested to know what’s going on here with this bill,” he said.
Lou Sager, program administrator for the high school equivalency testing program at the State Board, testified against the bill. She explained that after a 2014 RFP process, the GED® test was the only high school equivalency test provider that met all criteria laid out in state law. She also said that while the number of people taking the test have dropped, other avenues allowing people to complete their high school diploma or equivalent are also open.
“Our numbers won’t ever return to where they were in 2012 and 2013 because we’ve created multiple pathways for students,” she said, citing OSPI’s Open Doors Youth Reengagement and the college system’s High School 21+ programs. “So the success of these programs and the requirement of the new WIOA that we have instruction up to college level and meet college and career readiness standards, to add another test at this time would be going backwards in all the pathways that we’re creating for our students.”
The bill passed out of the Senate Higher Education Committee on Feb. 16 on a 3 to 2 vote.
Faculty compensation topic of House Appropriations hearing
Feb. 13 — A bill that would allow college boards of trustees to provide additional compensation to faculty was up for hearing in the House Appropriations Committee Monday. Under current law, faculty salaries may not exceed the amount or percentage established by the Legislature in the operating budget and allocated by the State Board.
The exact cost of the bill is unknown because future collective bargaining agreements between faculty unions and colleges would change its fiscal impact. Potentially, a 1 percent increase in faculty compensation across the college system would mean about a $4.5 million impact each fiscal year.
Ed McCallister, director of human resources for the State Board, testified on behalf of the college system.
“Faculty are the core competency of our colleges and deserve better pay,” he said.
McCallister told committee members that additional compensation would come from a college’s local funds, which varies by college district. Generally, local funds are used for one-time, unanticipated, or emergency purchases, not for ongoing expenditures like salaries. Additionally, he said, this bill could create a salary disparity between colleges with larger local fund balances and those with smaller balances.
“Although there are differences in pay between districts, in between full- and part-time faculty, it is likely that these differences will grow as colleges negotiate amounts available for salary increases,” he added. “Local bargaining of salaries will increase the gap between the haves and the have nots.”
Wendy Rader-Konofalski with WEA and Bernal Baca with AFT-Washington representing faculty at a combined 32 colleges testified in favor of the bill’s passage.
Coming up next week
House and Senate fiscal committees will be hard at work next week hearing bills before Friday’s fiscal committee cutoff date. That cutoff means all bills with a monetary impact will need to be approved by those committees in order to continue on in the legislative process. Agendas will be set once the policy committee cutoff ends today.