Senate releases budget, corrections education bill heard in Senate committee
The Legislature was busy this week as attention turned to the Senate Republican budget which was released Tuesday. It passed the chamber along party lines in the early hours of Friday. House Democrats are expected to release their version of the budget early next week.
Meanwhile, House and Senate policy committees continued hearing bills from the opposite chamber ahead of Wednesday's cutoff date. The college system's corrections education bill was up for a hearing as was an employee compensation measure.
Senate Higher Education takes up student success during work session
March 23 — The Senate Higher Education Committee held a work session on student success and held trustee confirmation hearings at its hearing Thursday. Providing the community and technical college perspective on student success were Marty Cavalluzzi, president of Pierce College Puyallup, and Lisa Garcia-Hanson, director of the Student Success Center at the State Board.
“Since its inception, the community and technical college system has been about access, and that’s an important measure and because we are all about access, the full range of diversity representing our entire community has had access to college,” Cavalluzzi said.
Cavalluzzi spoke on the Pierce College District’s efforts to close achievement gaps while increasing graduation rates and increasing student retention. Pierce was recently recognized by Achieving the Dream for these efforts with the organization's Leah Meyer Austin Award. Cavalluzzi provided senators statistics on the college district’s success rates in programs like pre-college math. Rates showed substantial increases in the number of students who start in a pre-college math course and complete college math in a year.
“Not only are we actually increasing those rates, we’re closing achievement gaps as well,” he said.
Garcia-Hanson built on Cavalluzzi’s testimony, telling senators about Guided Pathways, an initiative funded by a grant from College Spark Washington. The method reduces and simplifies the number of choices a student must make from the time they enter college to the time they graduate.
“Guided Pathways creates intentionally designed, clear, structured educational experiences that guides each student effectively and efficiently from their point of entry through to attainment of high quality post-secondary credentials and careers that have high value in Washington’s local, regional and statewide labor market,” Garcia-Hanson said.
The College Spark Washington grant funds a pilot at six colleges: Everett Community College, Pierce College, South Puget Sound Community College, South Seattle College and Skagit Valley College. Yakima Valley College, Garcia-Hanson said, implemented a Guided Pathways model several years ago which resulted in simplified and smoother entry for its students into academic programs, more efficient progression and increased retention.
“As a system, we are focused on helping all our students succeed, especially those who are low-income, first-generation and under-represented,” she said. “We believe that implementing Guided Pathways throughout all 34 community and technical colleges, which includes three districts — Pierce, Spokane and Seattle — is the best way to accomplish this important goal.”
Funding Guided Pathways is one of the college system’s operating budget requests to the Legislature.
“If we were able to be fully or partially funded to the level of our operating budget request for Guided Pathways, we would be able to implement and full-scale this proven student success approach for all or a larger subset of our community and technical colleges,” Garcia-Hanson said. “This could result in as many as an additional 15,000 degrees and certificates over the next biennium.”
As time allowed, the committee held confirmation hearings from three college trustees:
- Janice Wigen, Community Colleges of Spokane
- Jeffrey Callender, Bellingham Technical College
- Phillip Barrett, Shoreline Community College
The confirmations have not yet been scheduled for a committee vote.
- Cavalluzzi testimony begins at 50:21
- Garcia-Hanson testimony begins at 59:22
- Wigen testimony begins at 23:40
- Callender testimony begins at 31:07
- Barrett testimony begins at 1:46:36
Compensation bill up for hearing before Senate committee
March 22 — A bill that would allow community and technical colleges to provide additional compensation to academic employees was up for a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee. If the bill were to become law, college boards of trustees could collectively bargain with unions to increase pay beyond what is provided by the Legislature. The bill passed the House March 3 on a 65 to 32 vote.
Bob Mohrbacher, president of Centralia College, testified on behalf of the college system.
“The faculty at Centralia College are well-qualified, hard-working and dedicated and they deserve to have their salary increases funded. However, I don’t think this is fiscally sustainable,” he said.
Mohrbacher said Centralia is currently facing a budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Those deficits would be larger if the college paid higher salaries as would be allowed under this bill. Mohrbacher responded to questions from senators about using college reserve funds to pay for salary increases saying that most of those funds are already encumbered for long-term planning. Funds not encumbered are needed to fill budget gaps like the one facing the college next fiscal year, he said.
“In some cases, college have buildings we’re no longer receiving maintenance and operations funds for and we have to find a way to maintain those buildings,” he said. “Our reserve policy is 5 percent. We’re looking to increase that now because a larger portion of our total budget used to be in state funds.”
Testifying in favor of the bill were Karen Strickland, president of AFT Washington; Sharon Mitchler, faculty member at Centralia College and AFT faculty president; and Kimberly Sullivan, faculty member at Clark College and representing the Clark College Association of Higher Education.
System-requested corrections education bill heard in Senate Law and Justice
March 21 — The House version of the college system’s requested corrections education bill was up for a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Law and Justice Committee. The bill would allow the Department of Corrections, in partnership with the community and technical college system, to provide associate degrees to prison inmates who meet certain criteria. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill March 1 with a 77 to 21 vote. The Senate version limits program offerings to workforce associate degrees.
Rep. Larry Haler, the bill’s prime sponsor, testified in favor of its passage.
“We started off with a four-year degree program and now we’re down to the associate degree level, which I think is a little more workable,” he said. “I do believe when you take a look at the record of inmates who have had some college education or completed their GEDs®, they’ve gone back and become fairly productive citizens in their communities.”
Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, briefly spoke in the bill’s favor.
“As you heard from the prime sponsor, Rep. Haler, we appreciate the changes that were made in this committee on the companion and are good if you choose to do that again,” he said.
Presidents push for funding to colleges following Senate budget release
March 21 — The Senate's proposed operating budget received a public hearing before the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday. The plan passed out of committee on March 22 and was approved by Senate March 23 on a 25-24 vote.
- Cut $8 million in state funding from the community and technical college system. Colleges would be expected to make up the difference by revoking optional tuition waivers.
- Cut $27 million from the WorkFirst program. The program helps people on public assistance train for jobs that provide economic security.
- Cut $25 million from the Opportunity Grant program. The cut would be backfilled with a fund-shift from Department of Social and Health Services. The Opportunity Grant program helps low-income students train for careers that pay well and fill specific skill gaps in the workforce.
- Provide no investments for the community and technical college system's policy priorities. These include: guided pathways that lead students to careers, increased I-BEST enrollments, increased Opportunity Grants, competitive salary increases for faculty and staff, and student safety measures.
- Fund I-732 COLAs for community and technical college faculty and for classified employees at technical colleges. Civil Service Collective Bargaining agreements would not be funded.
Three members of the community and technical college system testified with concerns: Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director; Larry Brown, vice chair of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges; and Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College.
Marty Brown said the college system is disappointed the plan makes cuts, not investments, and excludes community and technical colleges from new STEM funding.
He expressed appreciation for the I-732 funding but dismay in the lack of "long overdue" competitive salary increases for faculty and staff.
Larry Brown said Washington will need to import trained workers from other states or countries if the state fails to adequately fund community and technical colleges and four-year universities. "I urge you to revise the budget in a way that improves funding for higher education. Washington families go to extraordinary efforts to put their kids through college. I would love to see the Senate do the same thing for our higher ed system," he said.
Stokes described the budget challenges at South Puget Sound Community Colleges and other two-year colleges around the state. "This budget does nothing to grow the two-year college system in our state. In fact, at my college, we're still at funding levels below 2007," he said. Stokes said colleges also struggle to hire faculty and staff because salary levels are lower than those offered by other employers.
- Marty Brown testimony begins at 1:08:32
- Larry Brown testimony begins at 1:12:21
- Tim Stokes testimony begins at 1:14:14
Coming up next week
The budget will again be a hot topic as the House Democrats are expected to release their version of the budget early next week. Policy committees will wrap up their work by Wednesday's cutoff date. Policy bills will need to be voted out of their committees by then in order to continue on in the legislative process.