Virtual hearings continue as Legislature wraps up Week 2
House and Senate committees continued their virtual work this week, hearing bills on extending the Customized Training Program tax credit, expanding a pilot program serving students experiencing homelessness or who were in foster care, expanding educational opportunities in the state's prisons, and addressing equity and access in community and technical colleges.
Also this week, the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee on Wednesday advanced the bill that would make Juneteenth a legal state holiday. The bill was heard by the committee on Jan. 13.
Senate higher education committee hears counselor report, equity and access bill
Jan. 21 — Members of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Thursday heard from members of the Community and Technical College Counselor Task Force before taking up a bill on providing for equity and access in the college system.
Counselor Task Force report
Echoing testimony given during the Jan. 14 House College and Workforce Development Committee’s work session on the same topic, members of the Community and Technical College Counselor Task Force summarized their findings and reported on the impacts of mental health counseling services for students. Introduced by Joe Holliday, director of student services at the State Board, testifying were:
- Matt Campbell, vice president of learning and student success at Pierce College Puyallup: What did the task force find and what are its recommendations?
- Nicole Wilson, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and department coordinator for the counseling center at Highline College: What is the impact of having mental health counseling available to students?
- Heidi Matlack, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and faculty counselor at Yakima Valley College: Why do students benefit from this service? How does it help them complete their education?
- Shelly Hoffman, student and student body president at Grays Harbor College: Provided a student perspective
Summarizing the task force’s findings, Campbell stressed the importance of allowing colleges to create counseling services that would best meet the needs of their communities.
“A key element revealed in the task force's exploration is how diverse the counseling models are across the institutions and how each model was designed with their own unique student populations, communities and resources in mind,” he said. “And then looking at those models as part of a larger collection of wraparound services, we noted that this diversity of models and each college’s autonomy to be responsive is a key benefit to each college's ability to serve its community as effectively as it could with the resources that they had.”
Wilson told the committee she’s seen an increase in the number of students utilizing mental health counseling and severity of mental health needs. Those needs, she said, directly impact retention and completion. Community and technical college students’ diversity mean they face challenges that could affect their mental health to a greater degree than students attending other colleges or universities.
“Given the population that we serve, it is imperative that we adequately provide students with adequately trained, multi-culturally competent counselors trained to provide comprehensive wraparound support for our students," she said. "Let us make sure that our students get the comprehensive support they deserve to follow their dreams and meet their goals as they continue to contribute to our state’s workforce."
Matlack testified that having dedicated mental health counselors on campus affirms to students that their mental health is important, helping reduce stigma around seeking counseling. She spoke about how community and technical college students are more likely to doubt their ability to succeed in college.
“I have sat with many students who are unsure if they're making the right decision in coming back to school, not feeling like they belong in higher education and not having the support system in place to assist them in achieving their goals,” she said. “Through individual counseling or workshops, counselors can assist these students in finding purpose, focus and a vision for their future.”
Speaking last, Hoffman, the student member of the task force, summarized the key points students raised during the task force’s work. Those main points were:
- promote counseling services on campus
- allow for time zone differences to serve international students
- make checking in for appointments less awkward by locating counselor offices in a more private location
- have both male and female counselors
- have counselors from more diverse backgrounds with knowledge of cultural differences
- reduce the stigma of mental health counseling and help-seeking behavior
- emphasize mental health "preserving," not just crisis services
Hoffman also acknowledged the strain the COVID pandemic has had on students. She said they often feel overwhelmed and like they are being pulled in many directions.
“It's very hard to do anything while you were sitting in front of a computer,” she said. “It takes its toll on your socialization, your mental health, and your sense of belonging. Our world is so difficult and unknown right now."
Addressing equity and access in community and technical colleges
Last on its agenda, the committee took up a bill that focuses on methods to increase equity and access in the community and technical college system. SB 5194 would require colleges and the college system to:
- develop a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan
- implement programs to improve student completion rates for financial aid eligible students
- establish a faculty diversity program
- create a plan to achieve a system-wide ratio of 70% full-time faculty (based on headcount)
- require colleges to maintain a faculty counselor ratio of no more than 900 aid-eligible students to one full-time equivalent counselor
- design a program to help students access childcare services and qualify for child care subsidies
Sen. Marco Liias, the bill’s prime sponsor and member of the committee, spoke in favor of the bill, calling it a vision of measures the committee needs to take on in coming years.
“Our students are intellectually capable of completing their education and the tasks ahead of them, but the reason why we see continuing challenges in reaching degree attainment and getting students to their credentials is because of all the other obstacles that our society and our current circumstances place in the way of students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said. “This bill aims to address in a comprehensive way those barriers.”
Liias also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Everett Community College teaching Political Science.
Speaking first on behalf of the community and technical college system was Doug Mah, a trustee at South Puget Sound Community College, president-elect of the Washington State Association of College Trustees, and co-chair of the association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
“I can say with confidence that trustees across the state support legislative investments and support successful programs like guided pathways, more full-time faculty and counselors, greater access to financial aid, as well as equity initiatives,” he said.
He expressed concern, however, with the bill’s mandated direction in areas like staffing.
“Local trustees are appointed and responsible for making local budget programs and staffing decisions that meet the needs of their diverse students and communities,” he said. “A one-size-fits-all reduces the ability for local boards to make decisions that best reflect the needs of their communities.”
Dr. John Mosby, president of Highline College and co-chair of the presidents’ association's equity committee, testified next, telling the committee that the college system is committed to advancing and supporting anti-racist policies and practices. He called the work pivotal for the success and sustainability of the community and technical college system. Mosby echoed Mah’s testimony that colleges need flexibility to create and design programs and services to best serve their communities.
“It’s imperative that our colleges have those opportunities to identify programs and services while increasing the need for crucial and critical faculty and counselors,” he said.
Testifying last was Jan Yoshiwara, the executive director of the State Board. After reading the college system’s vision statement— Leading with racial equity, our colleges maximize student potential and transform lives within a culture of belonging that advances racial, social, and economic justice in service to our diverse communities — Yoshiwara called it “a vision statement for the college system grounded in equity.” From the vision statement, she told the committee, the system developed a 10 year strategic plan focused on increasing access, doubling completions, and eliminating equity gaps among students. Like Mah and Mosby, Yoshiwara emphasized the need for colleges to be able to make decisions about programs and services that work best for their communities.
“We uphold the value of local trustees, administrations, and local collective bargaining to prioritize the most urgent and strategic investments needed to serve local communities,” she said.
House College and Workforce Development hears bill to expand education in prisons
Jan. 20 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee spent its entire 90 minute hearing Wednesday on HB 1044, a bill that would expand educational opportunities in the state’s prisons. Eight community colleges served 7,037 incarcerated students in the 2019-20 school year in programs like GED® preparation, high school completion, and workforce associate degree options. HB 1044 would add associate and bachelor’s academic degree options to the list of allowed programs.
Rep. Mari Leavitt, the bill’s prime sponsor and the vice chair of the College and Workforce Development Committee, said the bill would provide people releasing back into the community with better job prospects, help fill the talent pool for businesses in need of employees, and reduce recidivism rates, thereby saving taxpayer dollars.
“We can address the need for skilled workers and reduce spending needs in criminal justice by providing formerly incarcerated individuals with tools, a chance to stabilize their lives and their families, and build a life with a sustainable career,” she said.
Shane Sweetman, a student at Centralia College at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, testified in favor of the bill from the prison. This was the first time someone incarcerated has testified before a Washington state legislative committee.
“This has given me more hope and self-worth than I’ve ever had in my life,” Sweetman said. “Thanks to the faculty members here at Cedar Creek and this Pell program, they let me learn who I am as a man, let me learn who I used to be, who I am now, and who I'm going to be in the future. This program isn’t about financial gain to me — this is about finding oneself and to be able to be a productive member of society in the future.”
Pat Siebert-Love, the corrections education policy associate with the State Board, testified that expanding programs to include academic degree options would open more doors for incarcerated students. Women, for example, aren’t always interested in a vocational career, so the academic options would provide them opportunities not currently available.
“Every student should have a choice in their career path,” she said. “Whether it’s vocational, or academic, or combination, we deliver high-quality college-accredited programs that focus on high-wage, high-demand career options that will lead to sustainable living-wages, which lead to healthier individuals, families, communities, reduces recidivism, and, ultimately, we will close one prison at a time through education.”
Loretta Taylor, education services administrator with the Department of Corrections, praised the bill's support for students with learning disabilities and special education services.
"The students we serve in prisons have many obstacles to overcome and more often than not we are engaging students who did not realize educational success previously, and the proposed changes in this bill will assist us in better serving our student population," she said.
Taylor also encouraged the committee to look at additional supports for all students in corrections education programs by expanding access to technology like laptops, supporting secure internet access, and staffing for intellectual disability student services.
Speaking in support of the bill, but with concerns about students using Pell Grants or the Washington College Grant while incarcerated was Erin Lynam, an education coordinator at Grays Harbor College who serves the Stafford Creek Corrections Center.
“While degree pathways available to incarcerated students may not line up with their long-term goals, their access to college before returning to the community is crucial to their success,” she said. “My hope for the students that I support is that they see the potential that they possess and that financial aid is available to them when they go home.”
Committee hears bill that would expand program supporting students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity
Jan. 19 — The House Appropriations Committee took up a bill at its hearing Tuesday that would expand a pilot program designed to support students experiencing homelessness and students who were in foster care when they graduated high school. HB 1166 builds on SSB 5800, passed in 2019, growing the Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness (SSEH) program from four community or technical colleges and two universities by four additional colleges and two additional universities.
Dr. Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College, one of the current pilot colleges, testified in favor of the bill, telling committee members his college has seen overwhelming success with the program.
“We did see retention rates for the students who participated in the program above the retention rates for our general population of students,” he said. The South Puget Sound program serves 38 students and it projects it will serve 47 by the end of June.
Stokes was joined by two South Puget Sound students taking part in the program. Torin Tinnin is a student athlete and working on a degree in business administration.
“This program is amazing. Dealing with a lot of adversity without a season and some of the complications in my life, this program has helped me gain more focus and get on top of what needs to be taken care of, which is the ultimate goal of getting my degree and getting into the business field,” Tinnin said. “The program is something that I feel students really need.”
Auntoria Peden, attending South Puget Sound to earn certificates to boost her career as a certified nursing assistant, told the committee how the program helped her as she looked for stable housing.
“With COVID being what it is at the moment, I think this program would help more than just me, but I am a living testimony that we can be at the top of our game and it's just one bad decision or one bad day away from needing help,” she said. “This program definitely helps people.”
State Board legislative intern and Skagit Valley College student Sydney Sharp also spoken in favor of the bill. She testified that while she wanted to go to college immediately after graduating from high school, she and her mother experienced housing and financial insecurity following Sharp’s father’s death. After two years working multiple jobs, she enrolled at SVC and is now pursuing her degree in bioengineering.
“My story is proof whenever a student begins facing financial or housing insecurities, the first thing to be placed on the back burner is college,” Sharp said. “No one is immune to financial hardship, and the expansion of these types of supports would help more students focus on college while meeting their most basic needs, thus leading them closer to independently achieving financial security.”
Jessica Porter, the program coordinator for the SSEH pilot colleges with the State Board, spoke in favor of the bill, and requested an amendment that would support more proportional and broader representation of colleges selected for the pilot program.
“Homelessness impacts post-secondary students across Washington state, and this language change will allow the State Board to select a diverse cohort of colleges to participate in the expanded pilot,” she said.
House College and Workforce Development hears bill to extend Customized Training Program tax credit
Jan. 18 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee on Monday heard a bill that would extend the Customized Training Program (CTP) business and occupation tax credit by five years. The CTP is an interest-free loan program that provides training and education for Washington state businesses. The State Board pays up-front costs, and businesses have 18 months to complete repayment. Businesses qualify for a B&O tax credit equal to 50% of the cost of the training. The tax credit is due to expire June 30. HB 1033 would extend the credit to June 30, 2026.
Rep. Mari Leavitt, vice chair of the committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, stressed that employer-based education program is more critical now because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is all about workforce training, something businesses in our state say they desperately want more of, and it's about families having jobs that will sustain them over the course of a career,” she said.
Peter Guzman, a workforce education policy associate with the State Board, echoed Rep. Leavitt’s remarks on the effects of the COVID pandemic on businesses.
“The [Customized Training Program] helps employers and workers alike stay up to speed in a competitive marketplace, boosting profitability and employability,” he said. “The impacts of COVID-19 suggest an affordable program supporting worker training will have new urgency going forward.”
Mike Nielsen, director for corporate and continuing education at Green River College, testified in favor, telling committee members that the program works well, especially for small and mid-sized businesses.
“It’s very low barrier to entry. It’s a quick and easy program for [businesses] to take advantage of with relatively low requirements from a reporting standpoint,” he said. “Other grants that we administer have more onerous reporting requirements that can make it challenging for small business to take advantage of it.”
Also testifying in favor was Lewis McMurran, a co-manager of the Future of Work Task Force at the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.
“The task force was firmly in support of the Customized Training Program as one component of increasing the skills of our workers and the profitability of our businesses,” he said. “One of the clear trends that we saw during our Future of Work research, and is accelerating since the pandemic, is the need for workers at every level: entry, younger, mid-career, middle skilled, as well as experienced and senior leaders to upgrade their skills.
The committee voted on the bill during its Thursday meeting, advancing it to the next step in the legislative process.
Coming up next week
Committees enter the third week of hearings next week, with the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee slated on Tuesday to take up HB 1176, a bill requested by the community and technical college system. If made law, this bill would allow incoming students to access their official high school grades and transcripts even if they have unpaid fees and fines.