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Legislature kicks off 2024 session with budgets, corrections education, K-12 student support bills

January 12, 2024 by SBCTC Communications

The Legislature on Monday kicked off its 2024 session, picking up where it left off in April at the end of its 2023 session. The short 60-day convening means fast-paced work to pass supplemental operating and capital budgets and policy bills.

The week started with fiscal committees taking up Gov. Jay Inslee's proposed operating and capital budgets. Policy committees took up a bill related to student financial aid in corrections education and supporting students who are chronically absent from their K-12 schools and at risk of not graduating high school.

The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Friday morning heard a bill that would expand Washington College Grant eligibility. Look for coverage of that hearing in next week's Legislative News.

Fiscal committees hear governor's proposed supplemental budget

House and Senate fiscal committees started their hearings of the legislative session with testimony on Gov. Inslee’s proposed supplemental operating and capital budgets.

Operating Budget

For the operating budget, the governor's proposal includes funding for the community and technical college system for climate-focused curriculum development, Career Launch enrollment, refugee education and early achievers scholars. No funding was provided for the system’s request for support of Bachelor of Science in Computer Science programs.

Choi Halladay, deputy executive director for business operations for the State Board, testified before the House Appropriations Committee, and Stephanie Winner, operating budget director for the State Board, spoke to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Both expressed appreciation for support of climate curriculum development.

“We appreciate the additional investments that the governor has in his budget for our system, and particularly support the investment in the climate curriculum project that will impact needed climate education throughout programs in our colleges,” Halladay said.

Both Halladay and Winner asked the committees to include funding for computer science programs in their versions of the budget.

“The demand for high-tech workers in Washington is high. Expanding access to computer science bachelor’s degrees will help fill skill gaps for Washington employers and provide community and technical college students access to these high-paying in-demand degrees right within their local communities,” Winner said.

Capital Budget

The governor’s capital budget provided full funding for the college system’s emergency request to repair Bellingham Technical College’s Campus Center Building. It also included funding to bring college buildings into compliance with the state’s Climate Commitment Act. It also provides local financing authority to Renton Technical College for renovating its Building J.

Darrell Jennings, capital budget director for the State Board, thanked members for supporting students in past budgets, and asked the committee to consider including funding for Lower Columbia College’s Center for Vocational and Transitional Studies building and Columbia Basin College’s Performing Arts Building replacement.

“These were not included in the governor’s proposed budget but would benefit vocational and workforce education students and industry greatly, if you're able to fund them,” he said.

Jim Lemerond, president of Bellingham Technical College, also spoke in support of the governor’s budget. The college’s Campus Center Building was closed in July after engineers discovered structural deficiencies. The 70,000-square-foot building houses the college’s library, eLearning, tutoring, student food pantry, culinary program and restaurant, TRIO, as well as 20% of the college’s classrooms, labs and employee offices, and half of its student study space.

“I ask for you to please support the funding to repair this building that is crucial for our students’ success,” Lemerond said.

Encouraging committee members to include Lower Columbia College’s Center for Vocational and Transitional Studies in their versions of the capital budget, Matt Seimears, president of the college, testified that the building would support high-demand workforce and dual credit programs.

“It will benefit not only graduates and their families, but also small business in our region, large industries and trade unions. My local community has a large manufacturing base, and it is the home to multiple ports,” he said. “My local community does not have a regional high school skills center in our service area, so this building will also house many dual credit opportunities for K-12 students.”

Inslee delivers final State of the State address

Jan. 9 — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday delivered his last State of the State speech to a joint session of the Legislature. After 12 years as governor, Inslee has said he will not run for reelection to a fourth term this year. He made it clear, though, that he still has more on his agenda to accomplish.

Inslee called on members of the Legislature to support his budget priorities, including investments in clean energy, health care, homelessness prevention, public safety, behavioral health, opioids and fentanyl treatment, transportation, and equity.

Addressing education, Inslee thanked the Legislature for expanding the Washington College Grant so students may use it for apprenticeships. For K-12, he asked the Legislature to increase paraeducator pay by $3 an hour, raise the cap on special education spending, and create incentives for special education teachers.

The House and Senate will release their own supplemental budget proposals in the coming weeks.

House committee hears bill supporting financial aid for incarcerated students

Jan. 10 — A bill that would allow incarcerated individuals to be able to use federal and state financial aid was topic of Tuesday’s House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Committee’s hearing. If approved, HB 2171 would allow incarcerated students to use the funding for high school diploma or equivalent programs, programs part of the student’s reentry plan, and professional-technical, work, or educational programs.

“Ninety-five percent of those who are incarcerated become un-incarcerated and are out in the community trying to find a job or looking for a way to sustain themselves or their families, and education is the critical pathway to develop those skills,” Rep. Mari Leavitt, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. 

Hanan Al-Zubaidy, the State Board's associate director for corrections, spoke in support of the bill, saying the bill is essential to providing students equitable access to education. She expressed concern, however, that incarcerated students are limited by the programs offered at that prison. Using one-time federal Pell Grants in prison would mean students couldn’t later use that funding on programs once they’re released.

“We welcome Pell to the extent that it can expand programming for our students, primarily in transfer pathways with our partner universities. However, we do not believe it's in the student's best interest to be required to dip into their limited lifetime benefit to access postsecondary education when those choices are limited to which prison they are at,” she said.

Bill addressing chronic absenteeism heard in Senate committee

Jan. 11 — The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee took up a bill Thursday that would provide support for students who are chronically absent from school and at risk of not graduating from high school. SB 5850, if passed, would require educational service districts to develop and maintain training and coaching for staff on early warning systems and connect students who are chronically absent with necessary support. The bill would also allocate funding to ESDs, school districts and public schools to help eliminate barriers to high school completion for students enrolled in statewide dropout reengagement programs. The provisions of the bill are subject to appropriation in the state’s budget.

“The goal of this, of course, is to get kids back in the classroom, but it's not just that. It starts with tracking and figuring out the nature of the problem, but also engaging with community organizations to reach out and help the kids with barriers that are keeping them out of the classroom,” Sen. John Braun, the bill’s prime sponsor, said.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Troy Goracke, a State Board basic education for adults policy associate, asked senators to consider amendments that would include community and technical colleges as eligible recipients of students support grants and barrier reduction funds.

“Our colleges already occupy an important role in serving Washington’s reengagement students through Open Doors, and these changes would strengthen that role,” he said.

Coming up next week

Hearing continue next week, with policy committees scheduled to take up bills on opioid and fentanyl prevention education, a program to assist incarcerated veterans, and establishing an artificial intelligence task force.

Committees are also set to hear financial aid-related bills, including a Washington Student Achievement Council-requested bill that would permit public assistance program beneficiaries to automatically qualify as low-income in order to receive the Washington College Grant and a bill that would establish a grant program supporting career skills.

Last Modified: 1/12/24, 4:02 PM
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