Bills on college funding, help for students experiencing homelessness and campus security bills heard as committee work continues
With the session entering its third week, committees continued hearing bills that would impact the community and technical college system. The House College and Workforce Development Committee took testimony on bills related to college funding, counselor training and staffing, and student homelessness. In the opposite chamber, the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee heard a bill on campus security and expanding the veteran dependent tuition and fee waiver.
Senate higher education and workforce committee takes up campus security and veteran dependent waiver bills
Jan. 31 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took up a bill addressing security on community and technical college campuses at its hearing Thursday. The bill, SB 5150, would authorize colleges to contract for school resource officers — which are commissioned law enforcement officers — and approve security officers to carry weapons, including firearms, with appropriate training. The bill would also allow colleges to contract with local law enforcement agencies to provide security service, and authorize colleges to maintain fully commissioned police officers.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee why she’s sponsoring the bill.
“I ran this bill mostly so that we have the conversation because we need to be doing something,” she said. “We should have the opportunity to protect our schools — our community and technical colleges — like we do our four-year colleges.”
Michele Johnson, chancellor of the Pierce College District, testified on behalf of the college system. She also served as a member of a system advisory group put together to review the proposed bill. Safety, she said, is paramount to each of the colleges. To that end, colleges have established prevention programs, active shooter trainings, and behavioral and bias response teams.
The community and technical college system, Johnson said, is supportive of the bill’s provisions allowing colleges to contract with law enforcement. Clarifying the Legislature’s intent to allow colleges to contract with police would be welcome, she said. Johnson was concerned, however, that the bill would allow for colleges to create security departments with fully commissioned police officers.
“We do not believe that fully commissioned police departments are the direction that we should go; that we should be able to use our local law enforcement. It will continue to improve our relationships with them; our mutual aid opportunities,” she said.
The committee also heard SB 5231, a bill expanding the eligibility for dependents who use veteran or National Guard tuition waivers, aligning state law with federal law.
Sen. Barbara Bailey, the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke in favor of its passage.
“One of the things that I thought was really important is that when veterans want to go back and get an extended education — or some of their family do — that we really make it as easy as possible for them to do that by waving the fees around being able to go back to school,” she said.
Ruben Flores, a policy associate at the State Board, also testified in favor, hoping the Legislature would help fund the additional waivers.
“This bill provides access to a group of students who have been restricted from access to a powerful mandatory waiver of tuition and fees in our institutions as well as a $500 stipend,” he said. “We would love for them to have access, and we wholeheartedly support that.”
Expansion to underage alcohol tasting exemption heard in House Commerce and Gaming Committee
Jan. 31 — A bill that would allow students between 18- and 21-years-old enrolled in culinary or wine or beer making programs to be able to taste alcohol was heard by the House Commerce and Gaming Committee at its hearing Wednesday. Under current state law, underage students may taste, but not consume, alcohol as part of a program. HB 1563 would expand that exemption to allow underage students to taste alcohol in on-campus tasting events, field trips and during volunteer work.
Rep. Drew MacEwen, one of the bill’s sponsors and ranking minority member on the committee, testified in its favor.
“Kind of tough to tell if you're making a good product or not if you can’t taste it and see what needs to be added, subtracted, etc.,” he said.
Tim Donahue, CEO and director of winemaking at Walla Walla Community College’s College Cellars and Institute for Enology and Viticulture, traveled from Walla Walla to Olympia that morning to testify in favor of the bill.
“The current law as written does not specifically allow or prohibit 18- to 21-year-olds from being able to work in production, however the latest interpretation of the law by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board states that individuals between 18 and 21 are no longer able to work in production. This creates a huge problem,” he said. “If this bill does not pass, numerous students will be unable to complete a program they've already invested in, and the industry will lose a valuable resource.”
Bills addressing student homelessness, loan forgiveness and apprenticeship expansion heard in House higher education committee
Jan. 30 — Community and technical colleges were well represented at Wednesday’s House College and Workforce Development Committee’s hearing. The committee took up three bills related to the college system – one on addressing student homelessness, one that would provide loan forgiveness for aeronautics students, and one on expanding apprenticeship opportunities.
Helping students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity
HB 1572 would create a pilot program at four community or technical colleges and two four-year universities that would provide assistance to homeless students or students who were in foster care. Assistance may include access to laundry, storage, locker rooms, showers, technology, reduced-priced meals or meal plans, access to short-term housing or housing assistance, and case management.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that this bill is about extending support services provided for students in the K-12 system to students in higher education.
“Of course we want every child, every student, every young person to have opportunity to higher education, and this just helps level the playing field a little bit for them,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the community and technical college system were Dani Trimble, interim director for workforce programs at Lower Columbia College, Jim Minkler, president of Grays Harbor College, Erin Frasier, a policy associate with the State Board, Mary Tate, a student at South Puget Sound Community College, Eli Cortes, a student at South Puget Sound Community College, and Randell Dobbs, a student at Bates Technical College.
Trimble told the committee that she appreciated the bill looked at homelessness from many angles.
“I think it is very important that we are looking at some holistic and integrated supports for students — that this will not be a one-off special program — that we can look at how can campuses be able to integrate these interventions into a wider network of support for students,” she said.
A barrier to providing services, she said, is a lack of data. This was echoed by Minkler.
“We don't know exactly how many students there are in our state, but this bill will help us find that out. We don't know what interventions will be the best in helping them, but by having four community college districts and two universities involved in this, we’ll find that out and then figure it out from a statewide, system-wide approach what the best fixes will be,” he said.
Frasier connected the bill’s support for students to the community and technical college’s larger mission of helping students find livable-wage jobs.
“This work is very important to our shared statewide mission to move more people out of poverty and into living-wage jobs,” she said. “Our colleges do strive to support students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity, but scope and the impact of efforts are limited by resources.”
Tate, Cortes and Dobbs told committee members their own experiences of being homeless or insecure in their housing.
“There are students in our community that are working hard just like me and just like you that struggle not only with food or shelter, but sometimes with too much pride to reach out for support, and I want to thank them for allowing me to be their voice today,” Tate said.
Cortes explained how the provisions in this bill would have helped him when he was homeless.
“It was it was rough. There were days where I had nothing. Nothing but my books and stuff to keep me going. Reduced meals would help students just understand that there is a place where you can get food, and it's something that many students I hope never have to experience,” he said. “There's this pride that I'm human, and I want to fight. As a human, don’t look at me as less. It is my hope that you will support House Bill 1572 and help change the lives of hundreds of students.”
Dobbs, a combat war veteran, told the committee of the need for education, and that this bill would help people earn an education.
“I have found resources for participating in higher education not only an opportunity for achieving remarkable vocation, but most importantly, has been the difference from my personal survival — a life saver if you will,” he said. “This legislation will offer an opportunity to address some of the major barriers that students such as myself encounter in their transition from homelessness to the professional world.”
Aeronautics loan forgiveness and expanding apprenticeships
The committee also took testimony on two workforce-related bills. HB 1455 would provide loan forgiveness of up to 60 percent to students pursuing education to be a pilot, avionics technician or aircraft maintenance technician. Further, loans interest rates must be comparable or better than federal loans.
Claire Korschinowski, dean of instruction for aerospace, technology, manufacturing and workforce at Clover Park Technical College, testified in support.
“We support House Bill 1455 and efforts made to open doors and open access to our students,” she said. “We believe this provides educational access to students in the aviation field.”
HB 1418 would create the Regional Apprenticeship Pathways program, a collaboration between the Marysville School District, Everett Community College, Arlington School District, other local school districts, local labor unions and local industry groups. The program would prepare students for registered apprenticeships within the building trades and provide dual credit for high school and college credential completion.
John Bonner, vice president of corporate and workforce training at Everett Community College, testified in favor of the bill.
“We're very excited and fully supportive of this opportunity because we think that it will create aspiration of young people to move into these careers but also get some of the college credentials and other credentials that are going to help them pursue economic mobility,”
Reinvesting in our colleges bill and counselor training bill subject of House College and Workforce Development hearing
Jan. 29 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee took up two bills directly affecting the community and technical college system at its hearing Tuesday. The first, HB 1300 — creating the reinvesting in our colleges program — would appropriate $500 million to the community and technical college system in the 2019-21 biennium. Funds would be used for increasing compensation, increasing counselor positions, converting part-time faculty positions to full-time faculty positions, and establishing offices of diversity, equity and inclusion on campuses.
Reinvesting in our college program
Rep. Gael Tarleton, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that she believes it’s time for the state to invest in the community and technical college system.
“I believe deeply that our colleges and our institutions of learning are our responsibility to invest and grow as we grow and diversify our economy as a state,” she said. “It has been a long time since we have made a major financial investment in what the future of our communities is going to look like and we have all been struggling — those of us who have been here for the last six seven ten years — with addressing other educational priorities and needs, and I know our community and technical colleges have been holding on, holding their breath waiting for their turn, and their turn has come.”
Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, a member of the State Board, Beth Thew, chair of the Community Colleges of Spokane Board of Trustees, Kristina Pogosian, a student at Tacoma Community College, and Mustapha Samateh, a student at Edmonds Community College, and legislative interns with the State Board, testified in favor of HB 1300 on behalf of the college system.
Gutierrez Kenny told representatives that after the Legislature’s investment in early learning and K-12, it’s time for it to invest in the community and technical college system.
“It's like a three legged stool — we have been addressing the first two legs. This is the third leg that really needs to be addressed,” she said. “We must do it for not only the economic stability of our state, but the economic stability of every single citizen who wishes to have an educational training or education in this state of Washington.”
Thew continued Gutierrez Kenny’s sentiment, emphasizing that students need higher education to succeed in the workplace.
“You, probably better than anyone else, know that to be successful students need at least one year of post-secondary education. That's where the community colleges can step in,” Thew said. “It's not investing in the community colleges; it's about investing in our communities for the long haul.”
Pogosian took her time to explain that as the student body at colleges diversify, the need for diversity, equity and inclusion offices and cultural competency training for faculty becomes more important. She also emphasized the need for colleges to retain faculty.
“These are the people that are guiding our students, that are teaching our students, that are supporting our students every single day,” she said. “When we support faculty in this way, we are, in turn, supporting our students because we are attracting and retaining the quality instructors that give our students a quality education.”
Samateh echoed Pogosian’s outlook on faculty, particularly the bill’s requirement to move part-time faculty positions to full-time positions.
“Because we're a system of community colleges, we hold the values of community in which both faculty and students have a common goal of student success,” Samateh said. “Most of our faculty members work part time within our 34 community and technical colleges. It’s creating less time for them to spend time at a single campus and invest in student life.”
Counselor staffing and training
Next up at the College and Workforce Development Committee hearing was HB 1355, a bill that would create minimum education and training for counselors employed by the colleges and establish a ratio of no less than one full-time equivalent counselor for every 900 students.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self spoke in favor of her bill, saying that training standards and ratios would help students’ mental health. She related the bill to mandatory federal staffing levels for K-12 set by the federal government.
“In our community colleges, we have set no definition for a counselor. We have little access to mental health services,” Ortiz-Self sad. “If a student needs help and then we have no ratios or requirements, that's a huge gap in our services for students.”
John Boesenberg, deputy executive director for business operations at the State Board, and Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College, testified in favor of the bill’s intent, but expressed concern with its execution.
Boesenberg explained that students are supported by mental health counselors in addition to academic advisors and navigators. State-mandated minimum staffing levels would prevent colleges from finding a mix of professionals that would work best for its student body.
Stokes expressed similar concerns. College accrediting bodies, he said, set qualifications for counselors. Set ratios, furthermore, would present challenges because of funding and enrollment fluctuations.
Coming up next week
Hearings enter their fourth week next week with the House higher education committee scheduled to take up bills on open educational resources and transfer credit policies. The Senate higher education committee is ready to hear bills on dual enrollment and accreditation standards for College in the High School.