Legislature reaches second policy cutoff, budget proposals moving
The House and Senate released their operating budget proposals Monday, holding hearings that afternoon. The House also released its version of the capital budget, holding a hearing Tuesday. Policy committees were also back at work this week following last Wednesday's house of origin cutoff date. They worked fast, hearing and voting on bills to meet today's policy committee cutoff.
House committee hears undocumented student loan program bill
Feb. 26 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee heard about an hour of testimony on a bill that would create a loan program for undocumented students. 2SSB 6561 would create the Undocumented Student Support Loan Program to provide undocumented Washington state residents an option to take out loans to attend a college or university. Undocumented residents currently do not qualify for federal financial aid because of their citizenship status.
Scott Copeland, associate director for campus relations and policy guidance at the State Board, testified in favor of the bill. He cited the Legislature’s past support for undocumented students, specifically bills allowing resident tuition and opening the State Need Grant.
“Let's close the gap. Let's move this one forward,” he said.
The bill passed the Senate 34 to 14 Feb. 18 and passed the House College and Workforce Development Committee Feb. 27.
Bill changing supplemental retirement fund funding heard in Senate Ways and Means
Feb. 26 — A bill that would change the rate at which the college system would contribute to the State Board Supplemental Retirement Benefit was heard by the Senate Ways and Means Committee at its hearing Wednesday. The Legislature in 2013 required colleges and universities to contribute 0.5 percent of pay as an employer contribution to the higher education supplemental retirement benefits fund. 2SHB 1661 would change the community and technical college system’s contribution rate to 0.13 percent. The bill also states that the rate must be sufficient to fund a portion of the projected cost of newly established supplemental retirement fund beginning in 2035.
“Of primary importance to us is the establishment of the timeline for paying benefits from the fund,” John Boesenberg, deputy executive director for the State Board, said in support of the bill. “Right now these funds are only earning minimal amount of interest. Investing in them in longer-term instruments will increase those earnings and thereby lessen the liability to the state.”
The bill passed the House 98 to 0 but died in Senate Rules during the 2019 session. It passed the House 97 to 0 this session on Feb. 13.
Bills on college transcript withholding and College Bound housing heard in Senate higher education committee
Feb. 25 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took up a bill that would prohibit colleges and universities from withholding transcripts as a means of debt collection and another that would allow students to use their College Bound Scholarship on room and board. Up first was 2SHB 2513, the lieutenant governor-requested transcript withholding bill.
“It became clear to me that the risk of losing a future workforce of redirecting students’ lives due to a transcript issue and the loss of opportunity would be far greater than the benefit of a single tool for collecting a debt,” Rep. Vandana Slatter, the bill’s prime sponsor and member of the House College and Workforce Development Committee, said. “This does not clear any debt or remove accountability for a student in any way, but it does remove the transcript hold as a tool for all debt.”
The bill requires colleges and universities to release official transcripts for job, transfer or financial aid applications. Institutions may withhold transcripts for debt related to unpaid tuition and fees.
Scott Copeland, associate director for campus relations and policy guidance at the State Board, thanked the committee for its work and asked members to consider an amendment to include state- or college-owned property among the reasons colleges and universities could withhold transcripts.
The committee also heard HB 1278, a bill which would require colleges and universities that offer on-campus housing to provide a one-year waiver for first-year College Bound Scholarship students who are experiencing homelessness. The waiver would be offered on a space-available basis.
Testifying in support, Copeland told the committee that about half of community and technical colleges offer housing. Housing, however, is often full, so eligible students may not be able to take advantage of the option. This legislation could affect about 140 students every year.
House college committee hears financial aid bill
Feb. 25 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee at its Tuesday hearing took up a bill that would require the Washington Student Achievement Council to develop, in collaboration with the state’s public colleges and universities, clear and consistent definitions for financial aid award practices. The bill would also require WSAC to develop an online financial aid calculator and, working with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, coordinate a financial aid advising day for all high schools. ESSB 6141 is a lieutenant governor-request bill.
“We need our workforce to be well trained, and we've invested in ensuring that students can access that higher education training to complete our workforce. But if students don't know how to navigate the system then all that money is for naught,” Sen. Emily Randall, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, testified in reference to investments in the Washington College Grant made by the Legislature.
“We're trying to centralize systems to make it easier for students and families to navigate,” she said.
Arlen Harris, the State Board’s legislative director, thanked the committee for making the Washington College Grant available to students pursing any kind of credential.
“A FAFSA day at a high school is a great idea,” he said. “But we also need to explore adult reengagement and find a way to let working adults who might be a semester or quarter away from completion also know that financial aid is available to them to finish their degree or certificate or credential.”
Operating, capital budget proposals heard in committee
Feb. 24 — The House and Senate each released their operating budgets Monday, holding hearings Monday afternoon. The House also released its version of the capital budget, holding a hearing on Tuesday. The Senate took testimony on its capital budget proposal in last Thursday’s Ways and Means Committee hearing. All four budget proposals have passed their committees. The Senate operating budget passed the chamber Thursday 33 to 16. Its capital budget passed the chamber Wednesday on a 49 to 0 vote.
Each version of the operating budget includes an additional $2.4 million for the Job Skills Program, a grant program that funds half of the cost of a business-requested training. The House budget includes funding for:
- affordable housing at Highline, Lake Washington, North Seattle and Tacoma colleges ($500,000)
- firefighter training and apprenticeship study with the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee ($300,000)
- Spokane Falls Community College’s interpreter training program ($100,000)
The Senate’s proposal includes a one-time cut to Guided Pathways of $18 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year, fully restoring funding to $30 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year. The cut is described as necessary to keep the Workforce Education Investment Account solvent for the biennium. The proposed budget also includes a one-time cut to the nurse educator salary increases of $4.1 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year, fully restoring it to $20.4 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Testifying on behalf of the college system before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Nate Humphrey, director of workforce education at the State Board, thanked senators for their investment in the Job Skills Program.
He also asked the committee to reconsider its one-time cut to Guided Pathways.
“As you work with your counterparts in the House in the coming days to find agreement on the various aspects of the budget, we hope you'll find common ground in keeping the full commitment to Guided Pathways,” he said.
The House’s capital budget provides construction funding for Spokane Falls Community College’s Fine and Applied Arts replacement project. It also provides $275,000 in design funding for Everett Community College’s Baker Hall replacement project and authorizes $10 million in local financing for South Seattle College's Student Wellness and Fitness Center. The budget removes funding for Shoreline Community College’s Allied Health, Science and Manufacturing replacement project, as requested by the college.
Wayne Doty, capital budget director for the State Board, thanked House Capital Budget Committee members for their proposal. He said the Spokane Falls project is ready to bid in July, asking that House budget negotiators work with the Senate to ensure full funding for construction to not delay the project. The Senate proposal funds $20 million of the $37.1 million project.
K-12 transcript withholding bill heard in Senate
Feb. 24 — A bill that would limit the ability of K-12 schools to withhold grades and transcripts of students who damaged certain types of school property was heard by the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee at its hearing Monday. SHB 1715 states the hold would be valid for five years after the student leaves the school district.
“This will allow individuals who need to earn a high school diploma access to their official secondary transcripts and demonstrate the learning that they already completed, saving them both time to completion and money,” Goracke said.
Walker told the committee that a student’s inability to obtain their high school transcript is a barrier in the college system’s High School+ program, a competency-based high school diploma program for students aged 18 and older.
“In working with these students as adults, I have learned that for the majority of students the fines are a result of unstable life circumstances beyond their control to change at that time and not a result of carelessness, neglect or maliciousness,” she said. “Without the transcript students can still complete a diploma, but they lose time they can never get back.”
The bill passed the House 66 to 30 but died in Senate Rules during the 2019 session. For the 2020 session, it passed the House 65 to 32 on Jan. 27.
Coming up next week
House and Senate fiscal committees will work Saturday, hearing bills with a fiscal impact ahead of Monday's fiscal committee cutoff deadline. The Legislature will spend the rest of the week on floor, debating and voting on bills by Friday's chamber cutoff date.