College system bills moving as fiscal committees wrap up work today
House and Senate fiscal committees will wrap up their work today after a week of hours-long meetings to hear public testimony and vote on bills. Committee members this week heard community and technical college-focused bills on diversity, equity and inclusion, computer science bachelor's degrees, equity and access, supporting students experiencing homelessness, and the Customized Training Program.
House budget writers released their version of the operating budget March 26, taking testimony the next day. Like the Senate's version of the operating budget, the House proposal funds all parts of the Workforce Education Investment Act, including funding for nursing faculty salaries, salary increases for faculty in high-demand fields, and support for enrollments in Career Launch and high-demand programs. It also includes funding for:
- student emergency assistance grants
- Job Skills Program
- Guided Pathways
- anti-racist curriculum reviews
- technology improvements
Senate Ways and Means hears operating budget proposal
March 26 — The Senate Ways and Means Committee on March 26 opened public hearing on its version of the 2021-2023 operating budget released the previous day. The proposal funds all elements provided in the Workforce Education Investment Act, including funding for nursing faculty salaries, salary increases for faculty in high-demand fields, and support for enrollments in Career Launch and high-demand programs. If the bills are passed, the budget provides funding for E2SSB 5194, the equity and access in community and technical colleges bill, and E2SSB 5227, the bill requiring diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism training at colleges and universities.
“We appreciate that this budget comes in the midst of an unpredictable and unprecedented economic situation, so we thank you for sustaining our community and technical colleges, providing increased support to the 350,000 students we serve,” said Cherie Berthon, operating budget director for the State Board.
Dr. Bob Mohrbacher, president of Centralia College, testified that community and technical colleges are a key part of the state’s economic recovery, highlighting proposed funding for E2SSB 5194 in support of the system’s Guided Pathways initiatives.
“Thank you for your investments in our workforce development efforts, including fully funding our proposal to expand the Job Skills Program and dedicating $2 million for high-demand enrollments,” he said. Guided Pathways, he continued, will increase retention and graduation rates so students can enter the workforce well trained for jobs.
Dr. Shelia Edwards Lange, president of Seattle Central College, underscored the important role of community and technical colleges as the state recovers from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.
“Your investment in our students will help us advance an equitable economic recovery in our state,” she said. “Your continued support of our Guided Pathways work is really inspiring, and we’re grateful for that. It ensures that we get the wraparound services for our students and keeps them on a path towards a credential and a living-wage job.”
House capital budget proposal heard in committee
March 29 — At its hearing Monday, members of the House Capital Budget Committee heard testimony on its version of the capital budget released March 24. The proposed budget would fund the community and technical college system’s request through the design funding for Wenatchee Valley College’s Center for Technical Education and Innovation, the 12th project on the list. Testifying on behalf of the college system were Dr. Darrell Cain, president of Pierce College Puyallup, Wayne Doty, capital budget director for the State Board, Dr. Amy Morrison, president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and Dr. Chemene Crawford, interim president of North Seattle College.
“The process we use to identify and prioritize the system’s needs is very thoughtful and inclusive,” Cain said. “We have many buildings in the system that are getting older and need to be replaced to provide healthy and effective learning environments for our students.”
Funding to build Pierce Puyallup’s STEM Building is 22nd on the prioritized list. Asking the committee to consider additional funding, Cain told committee members the college is ready to begin construction on the building this summer to accommodate demand for science, technology, engineering and computer science classes.
Echoing Cain, Doty expressed that the college system works hard to prioritize college infrastructure needs to best serve students.
“Each college tailors their program offerings to address local community and business needs,” he said. “Colleges and the State Board worked together to identify the most urgent capital needs and prioritize them to get the most benefit for every dollar.”
Testifying next, Morrison asked the committee to consider funding the capital budget to match the Senate’s proposal. That funding level would include Lake Washington’s Center for Design, the 28th project on the system’s list.
“As the only public institute of technology in Washington state, we provide students with the latest in-demand skills relevant to today’s workplace,” she said. “At Lake Washington Tech, we offer students unique opportunities, and our graduates regularly find well-paying jobs.”
Crawford also asked the committee to consider increasing funding for the capital projects list. Funds to renovate North Seattle’s Library Building falls 19th on the list. That project would address ADA compliance, bring the facility up to current electrical and fire codes, and provide space for instructional support, research and helping students build skills in information literacy.
“North Seattle College is primed to help people of every age and background survive this economic crisis with better jobs and opportunities,” she said. “Funding the system’s request will ensure that Washington’s system of community and technical colleges can move forward with these much needed projects.”
Diversity, equity, inclusion bill, computer science bachelor's degree bill heard in House Appropriations
March 30 — Two bills that would affect the community and technical college system were up for hearing during Tuesday’s House Appropriations Committee hearing. First was E2SSB 5227, the bill that would establish annual diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism professional development and learning opportunities for college and university students, faculty and staff. Testifying on behalf of the college system was Ha Nguyen, equity and diversity director at the State Board.
“As you may already know, our colleges play a critical role for developing a diverse workforce, enabling economic mobility and closing equity gaps and are essential to an equitable economic recovery. As such, our colleges have demonstrated a deep commitment to DEI efforts over the years,” she said.
Nguyen walked committee members through community and technical colleges’ DEI work, including a newly formed Association of College Trustees' DEI committee, the Diversity and Equity Officers Commission, and long-standing conferences and trainings for faculty, staff and students.
“However, we can do more,” she said. “We thank the Legislature for your leadership and understanding the importance of scaling and sustaining the anti-racist reform efforts already underway across our good state by endorsing this bill.”
Also up for a hearing was SSB 5401, the bill that would allow community and technical colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in computer science. Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, president of Seattle Central College, testified in favor, saying it would increase access and equity to degrees, especially for low-income students and students of color.
“Everyone advocating for this legislation knows that we cannot continue to rely on the small number of computer science degrees being produced in our state and that many of our Washington students, particularly students of color, are not getting access to the credentials they need to compete for the living-wage jobs in this arena,” she said.
Students unable to compete for well-paying jobs in the computer science field, Lange continued, further contribute to racial disparities in the community.
“Our students are highly motivated. Many are placebound with families and jobs and don’t have the ability to relocate to enroll in existing computer science bachelor’s degree programs. But, if given the opportunity to earn a computer science degree in their own community, they will do so,” she said. “I urge you to continue to support this legislation. It will broaden the number of computer science degrees produced in our state, help our Washington companies diversify their workforce, and create equitable economic outcomes for our citizens in Washington state.”
The committee voted to approve both bills at its hearing Wednesday.
Equity and access bill heard in House Appropriations
March 31 — The House Appropriations Committee at its hearing Wednesday took up E2SSB 5194, the bill that would require community and technical colleges to:
- Develop diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plans
- Fully implement Guided Pathways with evaluation to be completed by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy
- Establish a goal for adding 200 full-time faculty positions in the 2021-23 biennium
- Create a pilot program to provide grants to colleges to increase student access to mental health counseling and services
- Establish minimum hiring standards for college faculty counselors
Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, testified in support, calling out the provisions on mental health counseling and services, Guided Pathways, and investment in additional faculty positions.
“Our faculty and staff are at the center of the work we do in preparing students for opportunities to attain family-wage careers in our state,” he said.
Committee members voted to approve the bill at its Thursday hearing.
Senate Ways and Means hears students experiencing homelessness pilot expansion, Juneteenth bills
March 31 — The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Wednesday on the bill that would expand the Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness (SSEH) pilot program and the bill that would make Juneteenth a legal state holiday. If passed, SHB 1166 would expand the SSEH pilot program doubling the number of participating community and technical colleges and universities to a total of eight colleges and four universities.
Da’Mea Birdsong, a student at Whatcom Community College and one of the State Board’s legislative interns for the 2021 session, told the committee about her challenge finding housing after she graduated from high school. The high cost of housing and not having a credit history made it difficult for her to find a place to live. She said she needs to work multiple jobs to pay rent and help her family with bills while forgoing other expenses.
“This program would allow for students in my situation the chance to have stable housing and get support and guidance throughout their whole college experience,” Birdsong said.
Jessica Porter, program coordinator for the SSEH pilot colleges at the State Board, also testified in favor of the bill’s passage.
“Doubling the number of college districts able to participate in the pilot will significantly increase the number and diversity of students served and will create an opportunity for even more accommodations to be tested over a broader geography of Washington state,” she said.
From February through December 2020, the pilot’s first 11 months, colleges served 226 students at an average cost of about $1,224. Colleges were able to maintain the low cost through using existing college and community resources.
“We expect that this same kind of value added and innovative solutions will be made even more possible by expanding the pilot,” Porter said. “Obviously the value of this pilot program is most undeniable when we’ve heard directly from students like Da’Mea who testified in support of this bill.”
“Recognizing Juneteenth as a statewide holiday would be recognizing the Fourth of July does not represent freedom for all but freedom for some,” she said. “Passing this bill would allow for all communities that make up Washington a chance to acknowledge and learn about the true independence day for the Black community.”
Senate Ways and Means hears Customized Training Program tax credit extension bill
April 1 — Members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on Thursday on 2SHB 1033, the bill that would extend the Customized Training Program’s business and occupation tax credit for participating businesses by five years from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2026.
Lewis McMurran, co-manager of the Future of Work Task Force at the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, told the committee that the task force — made up of representatives from business, labor and members of the Legislature — put worker training, upskilling and life-long learning at the top of its list of recommendations.
“One of the clear trends that we saw during our Future of Work research — and has accelerated in the past year or so — is the need for workers at every level — entry, younger, mid-career, inexperienced and senior leaders — to upgrade their skills, which include both digital and technical, as well as those proverbial soft skills and management leadership skills,” he said. “However, the reality is that training workers at scale is expensive, and the Customized Training Program helps to bridge that gap, particularly for small and midsized businesses.”
Mike Nielsen, director for corporate and continuing education at Green River College, testified that it's easy for small businesses to participate in the program.
“It’s been fantastic for the small businesses that I’ve worked with. It’s helped them provide training to their employees,” he said.
Peter Guzman, the State Board’s workforce policy associate who works with the Customized Training Program, thanked the committee for their continued investment in workforce education and industry-specific training. The Customized Training Program, he said, helps narrow skills gaps and addresses industry worker shortages.
“The program helps employers and workers alike keep up to speed in a competitive marketplace, boosting profitability and employability,” he said. “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.”
Coming up next week
The House and Senate will be on the floor next week debating and voting on bills ahead of the next cutoff on April 11. Bills passed will either head to the governor's desk for signature, or, for bills that were amended after they left their original chamber, will go to conference to work out differences before a final vote.