Session opens with hearings on student support, financial aid, budgets
The Legislature on Monday picked up where it left off in 2021 — remotely. While already planning to hold hearings by Zoom, the House and Senate decided recently to limit the number of people allowed on chambers' floor, close the public galleries, and move floor debates and votes to a hybrid format.
In committees, legislators kicked off their meetings hearing college system-related bills on supporting students experiencing homelessness, hazing prevention, financial aid and the governor's operating and capital budget proposals.
House College and Workforce Development hears bill to expand homeless and foster student support program
Jan. 10 — A year after doubling the size of the Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness pilot from four colleges to eight, the Legislature is again looking at expanding the program — this time to all 34 community and technical colleges. The House College and Workforce Development Committee took up the bill — HB 1601 — at its first hearing Monday.
“Many college students face homelessness, hunger and other issues that threaten their wellbeing and ability to finish their programs, whether it's a certificate or an associate degree,” Rep. Mari Leavitt, the bill’s prime sponsor and vice chair of the committee, said. “We all know that there will be significant demand for workers — as there is now — in the next 10 years, and these workers will need some form of post-secondary education. Our businesses are clamoring for us to gear up programs and train those that they desperately need to hire. [The] cost of careers lost, impact to economy and community support outweighs the dollar impact in our budget.”
Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College, one of the first pilot colleges when the program launched in 2019, told the committee he believes the program, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has saved students’ lives.
“The data bears it out that those students who participated in the program were retained at higher rates than those who are not, and we know that retention is the key to success in a community and technical college,” Stokes said. “If they're retained to complete their degree, they're more likely to be able to be successful and contributing members of our community.”
The South Puget Sound program currently serves over 60 students.
Austin Herrera is one of those students. As someone formerly in the foster care system and a veteran, he told committee members his story of homelessness, disability and struggle. Participation in the South Puget Sound program, he said, is helping him pursue his education in teaching and coaching.
“It's hard to survive in the world without a degree, especially when you didn't grow up with proper knowledge and preparation for the world,” he said. “I support this bill because it gives students like myself the ability to focus on school, instead of having to choose between surviving and study.”
Melissa Littleton, one of the State Board’s legislative interns for the 2022 session and student body president at Tacoma Community College, testified that HB 1601 would fill a gap in service at her college. The College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) partnership between Tacoma Community College and the Tacoma Housing Authority currently serves about 300 students. Students pay rent at a rate discounted based on income. Littleton told the committee that HB 1601 would allow the college to serve students who cannot afford rent.
“And as a reminder that this community, that is sometimes invisible, needs our support,” she said. “I see community college as a bridge to a better tomorrow, and, unfortunately, some don't have the opportunity to cross.”
Jessica Porter, program coordinator for the SSEH colleges at the State Board, testified that the eight pilot colleges served more than 300 students from July to January, the need significantly growing over the course of the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I hope that when you hear from students like Austin and Melissa about this matter, you will agree that making these services available to all 34 of Washington's community and technical colleges is the timely next step toward eliminating homelessness and other barriers to post-secondary education in our state,” she said.
The College and Workforce Development Committee on Thursday voted to pass the bill out of the committee. It now heads to the House Appropriations Committee for its consideration.
House College and Workforce Development hears student support bills
Jan. 12 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee took up a suite of bills at its hearing Wednesday that would boost financial support and support college going initiatives. First up, HB 1687 would allow students to use the College Bound Scholarship at a community or technical college even if they had earned less than a 2.0 grade point average. Law currently requires students to maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher to use the scholarship at any of the state’s public or private colleges or universities.
“What we're finding is hundreds of students are entering college every year with that hope that they would be able to get that College Bound Scholarship, but don't actually qualify anymore because of that 2.0 cutoff,” Rep. Steve Bergquist, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. “I'm sure there are quite a few students that if they learned they still have that College Bound Scholarship would continue on, and I urge your support.”
Yokiko Hayashi-Saguil, a Student Services policy associate at the State Board, testified in favor of the bill’s passage.
“We recognize that these students are already enrolled on our campuses, but may not be accessing the early commitment of state financial aid that is designed to encourage them to complete postsecondary options and allow them to be able to have sustainable and wonderful life opportunities beyond their postsecondary education,” she said.
Student support bills
The committee spent the remainder of its time on bills that would expand Washington College Grant eligibility and create outreach and completion initiatives to increase enrollment in postsecondary education.
“COVID-19 has hit postsecondary education very hard, with a lot of declines in enrollment, retention [and] financial aid — and these opportunities should be available to everyone to go to higher education — but it has particularly impacted students of color, rural, non-traditional students, first-generation students, and these inequities are becoming greater in this pandemic,” Rep. Vandana Slatter, the chair of the committee, said. “So what these bills are doing are working together to ensure students have three things: one, understand and access financial aid to enroll and post-secondary education, two, financial resources to persist in complete their degree, and, three, aren't burdened by high interest student loans.”
Washington College Grant expansion
HB 1659 would expand Washington College Grant eligibility and award levels. As currently written, students at or below 55% of the state’s median family income are eligible for the maximum award. HB 1659 would extend that to students at or below 70% of the state’s median family income. Additionally, the bill would allow students who receive the maximum award to be eligible for an annual bridge grant to cover higher education expenses beyond tuition and fees.
“We must find a way for talented and hardworking Washingtonians, particularly those from low-income backgrounds to be prepared to compete for strong living-wage jobs,” Slatter, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. “With critical workforce shortages in many fields like teaching, health care, behavioral health care, STEM, we need a future skilled workforce for an economically resilient and healthy state.”
Mirian Mencias, one of the State Board’s legislative interns for the 2022 session and student at Highline College, expressed her support for the bill.
“I cannot tell you that when I heard you, Representative [Slatter], speak and I felt that you were talking about me. I am one of those students that are still struggling to get to a basic education,” Mencias said. “I don't think we understand when we speak about food insecurity, shelter insecurity, and crawling our way through education. We need more funding.”
Hayashi-Saguil also spoke in favor.
“We believe that the expansion of the eligibility for the Washington College Grant and the creation of the bridge grant funding to help students meet their needs and enable them to pay for and access everything that their college education could incur is a wonderful asset, and we believe that this would be a wonderful thing for our students,” she said.
Outreach and completion initiatives
The committee also heard testimony on HB 1835, a bill that would:
- require the Washington Student Achievement Council to advertise the Washington College Grant
- establish the FAFSA and WASFA Outreach and Completion Initiative between colleges and universities and high schools
- establish grant programs for public libraries and community based organizations to conduct community outreach to increase FAFSA and WASFA completion rates
- determine a student’s eligibility for the Washington College Grant based on whether they’re receiving benefits from a public assistance program
- require higher education institutions to inform people who receive public assistance of their eligibility to receive the Washington College Grant, such as through a mailing
Rep. Drew Hansen, former chair of the House College and Workforce Development Committee, is the bill’s prime sponsor.
“When you let people know there's free money available, they're more likely to enroll, so we're going to put that message on blast,” he said.
Seattle Public Schools, Hansen continued, maintains a high FAFSA and WASFA completion rate, increasing it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They're pulling that off because they have embedded Seattle Colleges employees in the high schools whose only job is to make sure people know about the opportunity to go to college and fill out that form. That is exactly what we're going to do statewide,” he said.
Choi Halladay, deputy executive director for Business Operations at the State Board, spoke in favor of the bill.
“There are a number of factors within the bill that we think will be helpful in getting students to fill out of financial aid and qualify for Washington College Grant, including developing relationships with community partners and our direct outreach to high schools, which is a proven methodology that the Seattle Promise has shown,” he said. “We think that establishing a way for students to complete college is one of the critical elements to economic growth for the future, and we fully support the bill.”
“We’re very intentional and hiring these outreach specialists to ensure we are serving the diverse needs of our diverse to population,” he said. “These specialists are embedded in the high schools, alongside high school teachers, and have become a part of the culture of the high schools.”
House College and Workforce Development takes up anti-hazing bill
Jan. 13 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee on Thursday heard testimony on a bill that would work to prevent and reduce hazing at colleges and universities. Introduced in response to the death of Sam Martinez, a Washington State University student who died in 2019 of alcohol poisoning following a fraternity party, HB 1751 would require colleges and universities to provide educational programs on hazing and report findings of hazing investigations.
“The innovation I'm proposing includes finding a solution to hazing on college campuses in Washington as well as addressing through training and education social behaviors but individually from those involved as well as institutional staff. Organizational change is critical to address this problem,” Rep. Mari Leavitt, the bill’s prime sponsor and vice chair of the committee said.
Joe Holliday, director of student services at the State Board, testified in favor, and asked the committee remove the requirement that colleges post information about open hazing investigations.
“I'm here in support and House Bill 1751 and wished to also underscore the support for the preventative and educational approach that this bill takes,” he said.
Chio Flores, vice president of student services at Wenatchee Valley College, also spoke in favor of the bill.
“Based on communication with my colleagues, other vice presidents of student services at community and technical colleges, I believe that findings of student conduct code violations for hazing are rare in our sector, but we fully support the preventive approach of this bill in order to avoid hazing behavior from occurring in the future,” she said.
Flores noted some colleges would need to update their student codes of conduct to comply with provisions in the bill and student organizations and college groups may need to adopt procedures to fulfill its education components.
Senate committees hear apprenticeship bills
Jan. 13 — Senate committees took up two apprenticeship-related bills on Thursday. First up, the Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee heard SB 5600, a bill that would promote industry collaboration, program sustainability and apprentice support. Twenty-two of the state’s community and technical colleges provide instruction to 75% of the state’s registered apprentices.
“The legislation that I've proposed is a way to reconnect the workforce in our country and in our state to new opportunities and new futures where they really do have a way to move forward,” Sen. Karen Keiser, the committee’s chair and bill’s prime sponsor, said.
Genevieve Howard, a policy associate for workforce education at the State Board, testified in favor of the bill.
“SBCTC recognizes the critical role that apprenticeship programs play in providing proven pathways to economic advancement for diverse communities and those dislocated from the workforce due to the pandemic,” she said. “These investments stabilize programs, provide for quality instruction, support for diverse recruitment and enrollment, provide access to industry aligned equipment, and offer robust career pathways to those careers most in demand.”
Howard expressed some concerns with sections of the bill related to language, funding and program development, asking to work with the committee on amendments.
Later in the day, the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee heard SB 5764, which would expand the Washington College Grant full-time maximum award for apprenticeship programs to match the full-time maximum award or students attending community and technical colleges.
“I believe that apprenticeships are an important and essential part of our job training, workforce development and the good functioning of our economy,” Sen. Emily Randall, chair of the committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, said.
Speaking of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which is in her district, Randall told the committee that many of her constituents choose to start apprenticeship opportunities there instead of enrolling in a college or university.
“We know that not just this one, but many registered apprenticeships across the state are a pathway to family wage jobs for Washingtonians and ensure that we have the skilled workers that our communities need in order to thrive,” she said.
Howard again testified in favor of the bill.
“We are encouraged by the continued state investment in apprenticeship,” she said.
She asked the committee to consider amendments to support college financial aid offices and clarification on related supplemental instruction and transferrable credit.
House, Senate fiscal committees hear Inslee's budget proposals
The House Appropriations Committee, House Capital Budget Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee took up Gov. Inslee's operating and capital budget proposals this week. Community and technical college representatives were on hand to express the system's support for both bills.
Operating budget proposal
The House Appropriations Committee on Monday and the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday heard testimony on Gov. Inslee’s operating budget proposal. It includes for the community and technical college system funding for:
- Cybersecurity workforce ($7.2 million)
- Financial aid access and support ($6.7 million)
- Integrating climate solutions ($1.5 million)
- Expand homeless student assistance ($2.9 million)
- Refugee education ($3.1 million)
- Commercial driver’s licenses ($3.8 million)
- Health workforce grants ($8 million)
- Health care simulation labs ($5.1 million)
- Salary increases ($31.7 million)
Cybersecurity, financial aid access and support, integrating climate solutions, expanding homeless student assistance and refugee education are budget items requested by the college system. All were fully funded.
Cherie Berthon, operating budget director for the State Board, expressed the system’s appreciation for the governor’s proposal.
“These investments in financial aid, outreach and support for student experiencing homelessness will help more low-income people gain skills and knowledge that they need to start their careers and experience financial security,” she said. “On the critical issue of climate change, we're grateful for the investment to help integrate climate science across a variety of programs in our system.”
Christine Johnson, chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane and WACTC president, testified before the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.
“On behalf of the presidents of our 34 community and technical colleges, I am here to enthusiastically support Gov. Inslee’s investments in our system, particularly his expansion of cybersecurity enrollments and commercial driver's license training, which will meet urgent workforce shortages to give students really great careers,” Johnson said. “We applaud his investments in the health workforce grants and medical simulation labs to increase the number of nurses and allied health professionals that are so desperately needed across our state. Finally, we appreciate his support for educational opportunities for refugees who have so much to offer to our state culturally and economically.”
Marty Cavalluzzi, president of Olympic College, testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.
“We could not serve our students without our talented, hardworking faculty and staff. It is increasingly difficult to retain them in the current economy, he said. We encourage the Legislature to maintain or even exceed the level of salary increases in the governor's supplemental budget.”
Capital budget proposal
The House Capital Budget on Tuesday and the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday took testimony on Gov. Inslee’s capital budget proposal. For the community and technical college system, the budget fully funds an asbestos mitigation project at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom and the minor works request.
“We have prioritized the replacement of infrastructure to address the systems oldest assets in the worst conditions that served the most students, first,” Wayne Doty, capital budget director for the State Board, said.
Julie White, president of Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, told the committee that asbestos was found in the Olympic South Building in early spring 2021 during a renovation project. The college closed the building and relocated programs to other buildings or online. She stressed to the committee that removing the asbestos and reopening the building is a high priority for the college so it could continue offering programs and services normally located there.
“The early childhood education program requires dedicated on campus space for our lab school. Other spaces on campus are available only because of currently limited face-to-face offerings due to COVID,” she said.
Capital budget project report
The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday held a work session to hear a report from the State Board on prioritizing the system’s capital budget list. The State Board is required to submit to the Legislature a single prioritized list of capital projects on behalf of the college system. The capital budget passed in the 2021 session mandated the State Board report “on alternative methods of prioritizing and presenting the list of requested capital projects for community and technical colleges.”
“We found, of course, that limited resources lead to very stiff competition for state appropriations, and our system is required to submit prioritized capital budget,” Choi Halladay, deputy executive director for business operations at the State Board, said. “We first compete among ourselves, and then we compete among all of the other priorities for state appropriations.”
The report looked at four alternatives for prioritizing projects:
- Submit separately ranked lists for funding
- Major projects construction phase
- Major projects design phase
- Minor works
- Limit the number of major design phase funding requests to the number of major construction phase requests
- Same prioritization and structure as recent requests
- Request all funding needed for each major project in priority order below minor projects
“This fourth alternative looked at would completely eliminate the future impacts of design phase funding on the state, so we think that's a good alternative,” Doty said.
Coming Up Next Week
Hearings continue next week with the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday taking up SB 5771, the college system's requested bill to add the estimated number of full-time students who will enroll in Basic Education for Adults programs to the state's caseload forecast.