System bills heard in committee as Legislature wraps up second week
The Legislature ramped up hearings and work sessions this week as committees took testimony on bills and issues affecting the community and technical college system. Up this week were bills on making the Customized Training Program permanent and allowing colleges to offer associate degrees in prisons.
College system bills heard in House Higher Education Committee
Jan. 17 — Members of the House Higher Education Committee Tuesday took testimony on two community and technical college system bills: one that would make the Customized Training Program permanent and the other would allow community and technical colleges to offer associate degrees in prisons.
HB 1130 would remove the Customized Training Program’s expiration date. The program, created in 2006, provides workforce training to employers who contract with community colleges, technical colleges or private vocational schools. At completion of the program, employers are required to pay back the training allowance in phases over 18 months. When originally created, the program was set to expire in 2012, but the Legislature extended that date to July 1, 2017.
“This helps grow our small businesses,” said Rep. Larry Haler, the bill’s prime sponsor. “This also supplies a ready supply of employees to serve our small businesses in this state and we need to be growing more businesses and getting more people out there employed, learning these skills whatever the skills may be for that particular business.”
Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, and Anna Nikolaeva, State Board program administrator for the Customized Training Program, testified on behalf of the bill.
“The Customized Training Program has been a useful tool for economic and workforce development in the state. It is a revolving loan fund, so as participating businesses are repaying their loan, we are then re-awarding those funds for new training projects,” Nikolaeva said.
Nikolaeva told committee members that of the $330,000 the state allocates to the program, colleges have provided $1.7 million in training as funds are reallocated after businesses repay their loans. Program funds have served 56 different businesses – predominately in manufacturing – and have trained about 2,200 employees.
The committee next heard testimony on HB 1129, which would make permanent a proviso in the 2017 supplemental operating budget that allowed colleges to offer associate degrees in prisons. The degrees would be paid for by the Department of Corrections out of existing funds.
“This program does offer some hope for those who are getting out and going back into the community,” said Rep. Larry Haler, the bill’s prime sponsor. “I think the individuals getting these associate degrees are trying to make a better life for themselves and be a contributing part to our communities. And that’s all that we ask for these people who come back and out of the prison system.”
As a result of the 2017 operating budget proviso, prison education programs and colleges saw:
- Tacoma Community College began offering Associate of Arts courses at two state women’s correctional centers
- Walla Walla Community College maintained its privately-funded Associate of Arts program, and it added workforce programs in welding and HVAC at two other state correctional centers
- 12 state prisons began pre-college developmental education courses
Testifying on behalf of the bill were Brian Walsh, State Board policy associate for corrections education; Jeff Landon, senior administrator of offender change programs at the Department of Corrections; Dr. Jean Hernandez, president of Edmonds Community Colleges; and Dirk van Velzen, president and executive director of the Prison Scholar Fund.
“Over 7,000 incarcerated individuals will return to their community in the next year. The question before you today is how best to prepare them to return to their communities and be successful. This bill offers one answer in how to do that,” Walsh said.
Walsh told committee members that community and technical colleges serve between 8,000 to 9,000 incarcerated students each year.
Edmonds Community College is one of nine community and technical colleges that provide education programs to inmates. Edmonds students at the Monroe Correctional Complex can take GED® preparation and workforce certificate courses.
“While we recognize education is very important to keep offenders out of prison, we also recognize that the associate degree level will actually provide them with more opportunities to find a living-wage job, be able to find affordable housing and support their families,” Hernandez said. “We strongly advocate that you consider the associate degree as an opportunity to give them a chance for a better opportunity.”
- Nikolaeva testimony begins at 1:25:40
- Walsh testimony begins at 1:33:45
- Hernandez testimony begins at 1:37:20
Senate Higher Education Committee hears update from college system
Jan. 17 — The Senate Higher Education Committee held a work session Tuesday to hear updates from the two- and four-year college systems. Testifying on behalf of the community and technical college system were Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board; Larry Brown, vice chair of the State Board; and Bob Knight, president of Clark College.
Harris provided senators an overview of the 34 colleges and the State Board’s role in the system. He pointed out student demographic information, including the number of active-duty military and veteran students and students enrolled in Running Start. He also gave an overview of the system’s legislative agenda, and operating and capital budget requests.
“The numbers are large that we’re asking for, but colleges are currently operating at 2007 levels,” Harris said. “We believe investments in our community and technical colleges are low-hanging fruit. This is the opportunity to drive our economy by closing those skills gaps. We need your help to be whole as a system.”
Brown told senators about programs provided at the colleges and how they are helping meet the state’s educational goals for every adult to hold a high school diploma or equivalent and for at least 70 percent of adults to have a postsecondary credential.
“Our community and technical colleges are key to helping our state achieve its goals,” Brown said.
He also told senators of the college system’s economic impact on the state. A 2016 Emsi study found that the colleges’ total annual impact equals $20.5 billion in added income. This growth equals an additional 321,549 jobs and about 5.1 percent of the gross state product.
Knight provided a college perspective, speaking to the ways community and technical colleges fill skills gaps.
“When we talk about the skills gap, the community colleges and the technical colleges are the ones that are really going to train those blue collar individuals in each of our communities,” he said. “There doesn’t hardly go a day in my community where a business person comes and says ‘I just need that person trained in advanced manufacturing or in HVAC.’”
Coming up next week
House bills that would make the Customized Training Program permanent and that would allow community and technical colleges to offer associate degrees in prisons are scheduled for a vote in the House Higher Education Committee. In the Senate, the higher education budget issues are the topic of a work session at Tuesday’s Ways and Means Committee hearing.