Session convenes for first time in person since 2020
Legislators gathered in Olympia Monday for the first time in two years to kick off the 2023 legislative session. It was nearly pre-COVID business as usual, but some pandemic-related changes — like allowing members to vote remotely and remote testimony during committee hearings — will remain in place.
Community and technical college system representatives were on the hill this week testifying on bills related to wages for peer tutors in corrections education programs, eliminating fees for College in the High School, and expanding eligibility for the Washington College Grant.
House and Senate fiscal committees took up Gov. Inslee’s budget bills this week, hearing testimony on his operating and capital budget proposals, HB 1140/SB 5187 and HB 1147/SB 5200. Representatives of the community and technical college system were on hand to tell legislators of the impact the budgets would have on students, faculty, staff, and campuses.
Gov. Inslee’s operating budget proposal provides for an additional $274 million of new funding for the community and technical college system. That would go to system diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and workforce programs, requests made by the system. The funding would also include faculty and staff cost-of-living salary increases, additional nursing enrollments and support for students interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Julie White, chancellor and CEO of the Pierce College District, told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee that competitive compensation is the college system’s top priority for the 2023 legislative session. This is necessary, she said, to attract and retain employees to serve and teach students.
“Unfortunately, we are losing employees to other organizations that can pay more than we are able to pay,” she said.
White stressed that while pay increases are needed, so is the need for those increases to be fully funded by the Legislature.
“Anything less is a budget cut, and we will not be able to serve our students and our communities as we need to, and this may result in losing positions if we do not have that full funding,” she said.
Bob Mohrbacher, president of Centralia College, had similar testimony before the House Appropriations Committee.
“We need additional salary dollars in order to attract and retain high quality staff,” he said. “We've seen a higher than normal turnover rates in the last 18 months.”
Heather Moss, a trustee at Bates Technical College, spoke to the proposed workforce funding, telling committee members that community and technical colleges are crucial to building a skilled workforce.
“Colleges like Bates are key to rebuilding our workforce, and these programs are expensive,” she said. “Please maintain the governor's proposed increase for preserving our community and technical college workforce training programs to ensure that we have relevant equipment and resources to maintain a modern and skilled workforce.”
Paul Francis, executive director of the State Board, thanked the governor for funding college equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, saying that full funding will enable colleges to implement strategic plans, close equity gaps, and meet the goals in SB 5194 and SB 5227.
Francis also asked committee members to consider funding for learning technology, a system request not funded in the governor’s budget.
“The remote options that arose from the pandemic are the new normal. Students, especially working adults, need the flexibility of learning and classrooms online or a mix of the two,” he said. “We’re asking for investments and technology, equipment and training to make online classes and student services like financial aid or advising more accessible and effective.”
Also up for hearings was Gov. Inslee’s capital budget proposal. The bill includes funding for eight major projects, minor works preservation, minor works projects, and Career Connect equipment grants. Colleges that would see funding for their projects are:
- Lake Washington Institute of Technology—Center for Design
- Bates Technical College—Fire Service Training Center
- Olympic College—Innovation and Technology Learning Center
- Everett Community College—Baker Hall Replacement
- Tacoma Community College—Center for Innovative Learning and Engagement
- Wenatchee Valley College—Center for Technical Education and Innovation
- Shoreline Community College—STE(A)M Education Center
- Lower Columbia College—Center for Vocational and Transitional Studies
Testifying on behalf of the college system before the House Capital Budget and Senate Ways and Means committees were Darrell Jennings, capital budget director for the State Board, Chris Bailey, president of Lower Columbia College, and Rebekah Woods, president of Columbia Basin College.
“We are requesting minor works funding for our highest priority repairs, infrastructure replacements and projects that enable colleges to address immediate program needs and keep campus spaces relevant and useful,” Jennings said. “The eight major capital projects in the governor's proposal will enable colleges to right-size space with the right space through renovations and replacing buildings that are functionally obsolete.”
Bailey thanked the governor for including construction funding for Lower Columbia’s Center for Vocational and Transitional Studies in his budget proposal. The building would house the college’s welding, machine manufacturing, information technology, and high school and college preparation programs.
“These programs benefit not only the graduates and their families, but they also benefit the region’s small businesses, large industries and trade unions,” he said. “My local community has a large manufacturing base and is the home to multiple ports. My local community does not have a regional high school skill center in our service area, so this building will also provide dual credit opportunities for K-12 students. And finally, the project will bring additional construction jobs to our local community.”
Speaking about Columbia Basin’s proposed Performing Arts Building replacement project, which was not funded in the governor’s budget proposal, Woods asked the committee to consider additional funding for the system’s capital budget request.
“The structural issues within the building are significant,” she said of the college’s 50-year-old Performing Arts Building. “It was built prior to ADA standards and is not able to be retrofitted. There are classrooms within the building that are not accessible by someone with a physical limitation, and when this happens, our only option is to move the class.”
The system requested funding for design and construction of the Columbia Basin project.
“Our performing arts building is a critical instructional as well as cultural resource for our students, our campus and our community,” Woods said.
Inslee lays out legislative agenda during State of the State address
Jan. 10 — Gov. Jay Inslee returned to the House of Representatives’ dais Tuesday for the first time since 2020 to deliver his annual State of the State address. After two years addressing the Legislature on Zoom, Inslee laid out his priorities for the 2023 session, highlighting investments in housing, behavioral health, K-12 education, climate change, public safety and abortion rights.
“It was powerful for me to reflect on the things we passed in recent years that are now becoming real, at a time we know that people are eager to see bold and inclusive leadership and action,” Inslee said. “The list goes on: paid family leave, broadband access, career connected learning and the best financial aid program in the country. We invest in our people and our communities.”
In his education-related remarks, Inslee focused on the K-12 sector. His budget proposes an additional $3 billion for schools, including an increase in special education funding and additional investments to allow schools to hire nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers.
Bill establishing minimum wage for incarcerated people heard in House committee
Jan. 10 — The minimum wage paid to incarcerated people was the topic of a bill heard Tuesday in the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee. The bill, HB 1024, would ensure that wages and gratuities paid to people working as part of the corrections program be at least the state’s minimum wage.
“Today you’ll hear about the 13th Amendment to our United States Constitution and how slavery was abolished except for punishment for a crime, and that's what's going on today in Washington state,” Rep. Tarra Simmons, the bill’s prime sponsor, said of the bill. “There are people still being punished with forced labor because they have committed some kind of offense, and those offenses are often rooted in mental health and substance use disorder.”
On hand to testify from the community and technical college system were Lauren Zavrel, High School+ and GED® faculty at Clark College who teaches at Larch Correctional Center, and Pat Seibert-Love, corrections education policy associate at the State Board.
Zavrel asked the committee to consider wage increases for peer tutors.
“This select group of talented critical workers are the invisible heroes of adult education — the difference between college and crime for many students,” she said. “Inmate tutors shatter the stereotypes about who the incarcerated are. They embody empathy and goodwill. They instill confidence, trust and discipline in students in ways that staff cannot, and, in doing so, they also carve out new identities for themselves.”
Seibert-Love asked the committee to add a provision for progressive wage increases for students as they complete a educational or industry-recognized credential.
“We support the bill and would ask for consideration for progressive wages for accredited academic credentials and specific industry standard certificates and credentials,” she said. “Encouragement and fiscal support for credential achievement is critical when considering employment norms post-release.”
Senate higher education committee hears bill to remove College in the High School fees, update on campus climate assessments
Jan. 11 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Wednesday took up a bill that would eliminate College in the High School fees and held a work session on diversity, equity and inclusion campus climate surveys required by SB 5227, which was passed in 2021.
College in the High School
The College in the High School (CHS) bill, SB 5048, would allow high school 10th, 11th and 12th graders to enroll and register in those classes at no cost. The Legislature would be required to appropriate funding for CHS courses, adjusting for inflation.
Sen. Mark Mullet, the bill’s prime sponsor, told committee members that he worked over the interim to ensure colleges and universities would be reimbursed for providing CHS courses. He also noted he’s open to amendments as the bill progresses.
“There are some benefits of College in high School, and I think it will substantially improve kids’ lives if we can pass this bill,” he said.
Jamie Traugott, director of dual credit and K-12 alignment at the State Board, testified on behalf of the college system. Community and technical colleges served 7,568 College in the High School students during the 2021-22 school year.
“We appreciate the innovation behind this bill to ensure all students can access College in the High School cost-free,” she said.
Traugott thanked Mullet for his dedication to the community and technical college system and for his willingness to work out system questions on reimbursements and collective bargaining agreements.
Campus climate assessments
The committee also heard from representatives from the community and technical college system and the four-year universities about how their institutions are conducting campus climate assessments.
Required by 2021’s SB 5227, the assessments collect information about diversity, equity and inclusion in the learning, working and living environments for students, faculty and staff. The assessments must be conducted at least every five years, and annual listening sessions on diversity, with annual listening sessions required in the intervening years.
Melissa Williams, equity, diversity and inclusion policy associate at the State Board, and Victoria Ichungwa, senior research analyst at Tacoma Community College, testified during the work session.
“This is one avenue to make sure we are engaging all members of our college communities and beyond, and then this also allows this impetus for meaningful systemic change,” Williams said of the assessments. “This type of legislation and the elements in this legislation can be that spark for the true change regarding equity, and change that reimagines and transforms our systems rather than applying band aids to inequity.”
Ichungwa told committee members that colleges were conducting climate assessments before the 2021 requirement was put into place.
“[Colleges] have been proactive in the sense that many colleges have chosen to conduct campus climate assessment for years without it being a requirement,” she said. “As far as autonomy is concerned, colleges have had the autonomy in choosing the assessment tools in the questions that are asked in how the data is used prior SB 5227.”
Williams noted the once the data from the assessments and listening sessions are collected, the college system will find ways to best use the findings.
“One of the exciting things that has come out of this assessment work is the opportunity to find out what's been happening that is positive and supportive of our students — all of those really good pieces of work at the colleges and them doing them for many years — discovering the strengths and leveraging those so that we can continue to grow those positive pieces, and then discovering the things that maybe we need to work on.”
Washington College Grant expansion bill heard
Jan. 11 — The House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development Committee on Wednesday took up a bill that would extend eligibility of the Washington College Grant from five years to six years of a student’s program, the same length as Pell Grant eligibility.
“This bill basically fixes a gap between state and federal aid. If we want to achieve our 70% postsecondary attainment, we need to aid students in persisting and completing postsecondary credentials,” Rep. Vandana Slatter, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the committee, said, referencing the state’s goal that at least 70% of Washington adults aged 25 to 44 will have a postsecondary credential.
Jacob Katz, a student at Clover Park Technical College and one of the State Board’s legislative interns for the 2023 session, and Yokiko Hayashi-Saguil, a student services policy associate at the State Board, testified in favor of the bill, HB 1156.
“For many students in the community and technical college system, the Washington College Grant is a lifeline to postsecondary education and the employment opportunities available upon program completion,” Katz said. “Expanding the eligibility of this important resource would allow students more time to engage with their educational communities and better prepare them to enter the workforce in their chosen field.”
Hayashi-Saguil also asked committee members to support the legislation.
“This proposed expansion of the Washington College Grant would provide our students in the community and technical colleges with more time to access this critical state aid program, ensuring that our students and others across the state have more opportunities and flexibility to pursue their college education,” she said.
Coming up next week
A State Treasurer-requested bill creating the Washington Future Fund is set for a hearing Monday in the Senate and Friday in the House. If passed, the bill would provide money in a savings and investment account for people born into families that are low income. The money could be used for higher education, buying a home or starting a business if the person meets eligibility requirements at the time they make the claim.
The House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development Committee is scheduled at its hearing Wednesday to hold a work session on an overview of the community and technical college system, the public four-year universities and the private four-year universities. Two corrections education-related bills are also up for hearings. One concerns the use of technology and the other covers reentry services and supports.