Revenue forecast shows good news, policy committees continue work ahead of next week's cutoff
The House and Senate policy committees continued hearing and voting on bills this week, including the college system's requested bill that would prohibit school districts from withholding a student's official grades and transcripts due to an unpaid fine or fee. Members of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee also heard the bill that would extend the business and occupation tax credit for businesses participating in the Customized Training Program and held a work session on the college system's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
The Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released its March revenue forecast Wednesday showing an increase of $3.2 billion in revenue over the next four years, nearly the level the state expected to bring in before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the economy into a recession. The state expects $1.3 billion for the current biennium and $1.9 billion for the 2021-2023 biennium. This is the forecast on which the Legislature will base its next two-year budget.
Customized Training Program tax extension heard in Senate higher education committee
March 16 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Tuesday took up the bill that would extend the Customized Training Program’s business and occupation tax credit for participating businesses. 2SHB 1033 would extend the tax credit by five years from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2026. The House approved the bill on March 3 with a 97-0 vote.
Rep. Mari Leavitt, the bill’s prime sponsor and vice chair of the House College and Workforce Development Committee, testified that the Customized Training Program helps businesses develop their employees’ skill sets and helps employees increasing their skills to sustain them over the course of a career.
“We know how our businesses have suffered during COVID, and some of them were suffering before,” Leavitt said. “I think it’s our duty at this time to do everything we can to support our really important manufacturers, and other existing small businesses, and our workers. Show that we’re willing to invest in them, and this is a great way to do that at a low cost.”
Lewis McMurran, co-manager of the Future of Work Task Force at the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, stressed to the committee that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for workers to learn and update their skills.
“The reality is that training workers at scale is expensive, and the Customized Training Program helps to bridge that gap, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses,” he said. “This is a good, common sense public policy that warrants an extension, especially during a time when workers need training and businesses need help to provide it.”
Peter Guzman, the State Board’s workforce policy associate who works with the Customized Training Program, said that the program helps employers and employees stay competitive. Since its creation in 2006, 95 businesses and 3,177 workers have participated in the program.
“The CTP provides a resource that allows small businesses to conduct training, even when they do not have the upfront funding available to do so,” Guzman said. “In addition, the impacts of COVID-19 suggest that employer-affordable programs supporting worker training will have new urgency going forward.”
Mike Nielsen, director for corporate and continuing education at Green River College, gave committee members an example of the Customized Training Program in practice. After acquiring a company based in Texas, a Kent business needed to decide whether they would move their operations to Texas or transfer Texas employees to Washington.
“Part of that calculation was how much training they were able to get, and the CTP grant was an example of something that allowed them to make some changes to their business model, provide additional training to their employees, and integrate that new business line from Texas into their existing program in Kent,” Neilsen said. “It allowed them to provide a bunch of training that they normally wouldn’t have been able to, and that expansion, obviously, is what we’re looking for here within the state.”
The committee at its hearing Thursday unanimously approved the bill. It now heads to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.
Senate early learning committee hears transcript withholding bill
March 17 — The bill that would prohibit a school district from withholding students’ official grades and transcripts due to an unpaid fee or fine was up for a hearing Wednesday during the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee’s hearing. The House passed the bill, ESHB 1176, Feb. 24 with a 77-20 vote after it was amended to allow districts to withhold official grades and transcripts for three years after the student left the district. The bill was introduced at the request of the community and technical college system.
Rep. Dave Paul, the bill’s prime sponsor, told committee members that the community and technical college system has worked to create different ways for students to start their college career in college-level courses. Students who through a placement test are placed into pre-college courses — particularly math and English — are less likely to complete a degree or certificate, especially when their skill level is greater than that taught in the pre-college course. If a student is able to show through their high school transcript they’ve successfully completed college-level course pre-requisites, however, the college can start the student in college-level courses, bypassing the placement test altogether.
“We have students who have transcript blocks, and sometimes that's due just simply to losing a library book or a library fine. That can cost that student thousands of dollars or hundreds of dollars because if we can’t see what they did in high school, they may have to retake that class and that creates a barrier for students,” Paul said.
Paul also serves as a member of the House College and Workforce Development Committee and works at Skagit Valley College.
“We know that the student discipline process disproportionally affects students of color. They are much more likely to go down the discipline process than students who are white, so this seems to me like an equity issue,” he continued. “We ought to provide opportunities for students to get back into higher education as quickly as possible.”
Lucinda Young, a lobbyist with the Washington Education Association, asked the committee to amend the bill to remove the three year waiting period, language that was added in an amendment when the bill reached the House floor.
“It's everybody's desire that students leave high school with the abilities hopes and dreams to move to the next chapter of their life. Withholding a high school transcript causes that to come to a screeching halt. Students can't enter the military, they can't enroll in higher education, their job possibilities are limited, and even transferring within our public school system is complicated without a high school transcript,” she said. “If the bill is not amended to eliminate the three year wait period for a transcript, its underlying goal cannot be accomplished.”
Testifying on behalf of the college system was Troy Goracke, a Basic Education for Adults policy associate with the State Board. He echoed Paul’s comments that the bill would help create equity.
“Fines and fees disproportionally affect our students of color and students with fewer socioeconomic advantages, creating inequity for Washington students,” he said.
Goracke also expressed concern with the amended bill’s three-year waiting period, asking senators to consider an amendment to remove that language.
The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill at its March 22 meeting.
Diversity, equity, inclusion leads Senate higher education work session
March 18 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Thursday held a work session on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the state’s colleges and universities. Presenting on behalf of the community and technical college system were Ha Nguyen, director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the State Board, Beabe Akpojovwo, social justice and diversity director and director of the Social Justice Leadership Institute, Bellevue College, and Rashida Willard, vice president of diversity and equity at Clark College.
Starting off, Nguyen walked senators through the college system’s demographics, citing nearly 50% of community and technical college students who identify as students of color.
“Colleges will play a key part in the state’s economic recovery,” she said.
Nguyen focused her time on the State Board’s vision statement and the 2020-2030 strategic plan’s first focus area: Implement actions, policies and investments that produce equitable outcomes. She continued by providing examples of work underway with college system leaders, cultivating equity-minded leaders, and professional development.
“These programs have emerged from a grassroots level, and they work to cultivate equity-minded leaders and provide support to our faculty and staff of color,” she said of efforts to cultivate equity-minded leaders. “These programs have served to establish rich communities and networks of colleagues of color across the system.”
Nguyen highlighted the Social Justice Leadership Institute, the Administrators of Color Leadership Program and the Faculty of Color Cross-Institutional Mentorship Program.
Speaking next, Akpojovwo provided senators with an overview of the Faculty and Staff of Color Conference and the Social Justice Leadership Institute. She serves as the chair of the conference and director of the institute.
In its 26th year, the Faculty and Staff of Color Conference provides a safe and inclusive space for systemically non-dominant employees in higher education. About 400 people attend the conference each year, with over 600 attending its virtual conference in 2020.
“It’s throughout Washington state and actually we’re getting some participants from Oregon, as well,” Akpojovwo said.
The Social Justice Leadership Institute, a collaboration between Bellevue College and South Seattle College, is focused on honing leaders’ skills so they can become culturally responsive social justice leaders in colleges and universities in Washington and Oregon. In its seventh year, the institute graduated over 150 people with 28 in this year’s cohort.
The conference, which was held this year in late February, aims to improve equitable, sustainable experiences and outcomes for historically underrepresented higher education students and employees.
“We’re seeing we have great support in Washington state, but we wanted to move out a little bit more because we have unique social justice issues in the Pacific Northwest region,” Willard said. “We developed this conference to improve equitable, sustainable experiences and outcomes for historically underrepresented students and employees of the higher education system through effective instruction and anti-racist supports."
In its second year, the conference hosted 467 attendees from across the country.
“The anti-racist piece is what we really focus on,” she said. “It’s geared toward educators and administrators and people who want to broaden their social justice knowledge.”
The BUILD — Broadening Understanding Intercultural Leadership and Development — Training Program is a 10 month intensive anti-racist, power privilege and inequity training for faculty, staff and students.
“It’s really helped the institution move forward in our anti-racist practices and operationalizing our social justice values on campus,” Willard said.
Sen. Emily Randall, the chair of the committee, thanked Nguyen, Akpojovwo and Willard for presenting.
“I’m so grateful for the leadership and the deep investment the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and partner institutions have been undertaking,” she said. “We’re struggling through a lot right now, but we can — and we are clearly — [be] really rooted in such strength and understanding, and that makes me really excited about where we’re headed from here and how we can continue to create more opportunities for learners and educators in our state.”
Coming up next week
The Senate is expected to release its version of the 2021-2023 operating budget next week, with the Ways and Means Committee scheduled to hear the bill at its hearing Friday.
Friday also marks the session's next cutoff deadline when bills, unless needed for the budget, need to be voted out of policy committees to continue in the legislative process. Up for a hearing in the House College and Workforce Development Committee's Monday hearing is E2SSB 5194, the bill that would require community and technical colleges to develop diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plans, address required elements of Guided Pathways, provide for adding 200 full-time faculty positions over three years, and create a grant program for additional mental health counselors.