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Senate capital budget released, committees resume work with opioid education, Running Start expansion, FAFSA rollout on agendas

February 16, 2024 by SBCTC Communications

House and Senate committees got back to work this week as the session reached its House of Origin cutoff deadline Tuesday. That's the self-imposed date in which bills need to be passed by the chamber in which they started in order to continue in the legislative process.

The Senate released its version of the capital budget yesterday, with the Ways and Means Committee hearing testimony on the proposal that afternoon. Elsewhere, legislators heard about the impacts of the delayed FAFSA release and took testimony on the opioid and fentanyl education bill and a Running Start expansion bill. 

The House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Committee this morning heard the bill that would require incarcerated students apply for financial aid, and the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took up the bill that would automatically qualify students who participate in Washington state’s Basic Food Program for the Washington College Grant. Look for coverage of those hearings in next week's Legislative News.

Senate committee hears opioid education bill, holds work session on FAFSA delays

Feb. 14 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee picked up its work Wednesday with a hearing on the House bill that would require colleges and universities to provide students education on the dangers of opioids and fentanyl. Committee members also held a work session on the FAFSA rollout delays.

Opioid, fentanyl bill awareness bill heard in Senate higher education committee

The bill that would require colleges and universities to provide opioid and fentanyl prevention education to students was on the agenda at Wednesday’s Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee hearing. The bill, 2SHB 2112, would also require colleges and universities to provide naloxone and fentanyl test strips, and it would require training and education for staff working in residence halls on the use of naloxone. The House of Representatives voted Feb. 8 to approve the bill 94 to 3.

“I don't have to tell you all that we face a crisis with fentanyl and opiates. The most troubling part of this crisis for me is that youth are being our hardest hit and fastest growing element of victims within this, and when we zoom in, most of these overdose deaths are entirely preventable,” Rep. Greg Nance, the bill’s prime sponsor, said.

Mollie Kuwahara, a legislative intern with the State Board and student at Tacoma Community College, spoke in support of the bill, telling senators that she was given naloxone when she was battling heroin addiction and overdose.

“I would not be talking to the committee today without that life-saving drug,” she said. “Luckily, I got clean and sober before the fentanyl epidemic took over. This is not the same for many people. It saddens me that I have become numb to friends and loved ones dying from fentanyl overdoses because of how frequently it happens.”

Kuwahara called Tacoma Community College a leader for working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to make naloxone available on campus and provide training to staff. The bill, she said, is important so TCC's efforts could be replicated statewide.

Senators hear impacts of new FAFSA rollout

The committee also held a work session Wednesday to learn more about the US Department of Education’s rollout of the updated Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The department began the process of updating the FAFSA following Congressional approval of the FAFSA Simplification Act in late December 2020.

While the FAFSA normally opens to students Oct. 1 of each year to apply for financial aid for the following academic year, the Department of Education’s updates pushed back the FAFSA’s opening to Dec. 31, 2023, a day before the FAFSA Simplification Act required the application to be open to students. The rollout, though, has been rocky. The department warned that the FAFSA application website would be “soft launched” to allow Department of Education staff time to solve software glitches. This meant the website was often unavailable for students to complete their application. Major issues have since been worked out, giving students uninterrupted access to the site.

The department also notified colleges and financial aid-support organizations that student data — called Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) — would not be released until the end of January. Mid-January, after the soft launch, the department discovered it had not adjusted its formula to account for 2024 inflation, making about $1.8 billion in aid available to applicants. Time needed to make the adjustment pushed the planned ISIR release to mid-March.

The effect of the delays means that colleges and financial aid-support organizations will not be able to update their own calculation systems nor train staff until they receive ISIRs, delaying when they can notify students of how much aid they can receive.

To learn about the impacts of the delays, Senate higher education committee members heard from three panels representing different areas financial aid: Foundation for Tacoma Students — a Tacoma-based non-profit that supports district high school students as they look at post-high school options like college — the Washington Student Achievement Council — the state’s financial aid fiscal agent — and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges along with the Council of Presidents, the organization that represents the state’s six public four-year colleges.

Each panel expressed concern with the FAFSA rollout, telling senators the delays will likely affect college and university enrollment for new and continuing students. Currently, about 17% of Washington high school seniors have completed the FAFSA, putting the state 35 in the nation for federal aid applications, according to the National College Attainment Network. The rate shows a 45% drop in aid application completion compared to the same time in 2023.

Yokiko Hayashi-Saguil, a State Board student services policy associate for financial aid, presented to the committee along with Ruben Flores, the Council of Presidents’ executive director, giving senators perspective of how the FAFSA rollout is affecting college and university students and employees. The delay, the said, compresses the time financial aid offices have to process applications from three to four months to four to six weeks for students starting summer quarter.

“[We are] thinking deeply about how financial aid is often not the sort of little tipping point, but it is that crucial tipping point for students to be able to make these important decisions,” Hayashi-Saguil said.

The two panelists said the FAFSA delays would affect college and university enrollment and add stress to already stretched financial aid office employees, impacting new and continuing students.

“If you're already in your program, but you cannot reapply for financial aid because the system's not working for you, that might be a deterrent; that might be something that pushes you away from considering continuing in your higher education,” Flores said. “Then for the students who are trying to embark on this journey for the very first time, they're not able to do it. It's no fault of their own — it is not the institution being unresponsive. It has everything to do with the fact that this big process that everybody needs to walk through to be able to access their critical financial supports.”

Now, Hayashi-Saguil and Flores said, all higher education stakeholders need to continue to encourage students to complete financial aid forms so colleges and financial aid-support organizations can receive the information once released by the Department of Education.

“[We want to say to students] ‘It is going to take a different timeline than maybe you had anticipated, but our colleges are here. Our financial aid offices are wholeheartedly committed to processing your financial aid application, to getting you your financial aid that you need, and they will be updating you with as much information as possible. But they need to be able to prioritize processing your financial aid application, so they're going to need some time, and they are going to be doing everything that they possibly can,’” Hayashi-Saguil said.

House Education Committee hears Running Start summer quarter expansion bill

Feb. 15 — The House Education Committee took up a bill introduced last year that would allow students who have completed their high school sophomore year to take up to 10 credits in summer Running Start before they start their junior year. E2SSB 5670, which passed the Senate Feb. 2 with a 48 to 0 vote, would also require school districts to provide high school sophomores, juniors and seniors with information about summer Running Start opportunities.

“Running Start’s an awesome program, but I think a lot of the students who start their junior year want to take the full load. It's a big adjustment for juniors, sometimes, to be on a college campus and with all the other students,” Sen. Brad Hawkins, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. “The opportunity for students to do some coursework, to chip away at that in the summer, leading up to their junior year as an added option we think is a good approach to help ease students into the college experience.”

Faimous Harrison, president of Wenatchee Valley College, and Jamie Traugott, director of dual credit and strategic enrollment initiatives at the State Board, spoke in favor of the bill.

“I believe that when students have the opportunities to get engaged with college as early as possible, they're more prone to not only finish high school, but they have opportunities to continue to earn a postsecondary credential,” Harrison said.

Giving students opportunity to build connections and understand what support services are available will help them ultimately earn a credential, Harrison continued.

Traugott told committee members that the bill would complement 2SHB 1316, passed in 2023, which expanded Running Start to the summer quarter.

“Opening summer quarter provided students more opportunity to explore pathways, recover credits from high school, and complete on-time degrees and credentials,” she said. “This allows [rising juniors] an opportunity to ease into the college environment by exploring pathways and college services before starting in the fall.”

Senate releases capital budget proposal

Feb. 15 — The Senate released its version of the capital budget Thursday, and the Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on it that afternoon. Matching’s Gov. Inslee’s budget released in December, the Senate’s proposal includes full funding for emergency repairs for Bellingham Technical College’s Campus Center and statewide funding to help 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 senators for the proposal.

“We are very pleased that it supports our highest priority of taking care of the building repairs at Bellingham Technical College, as well as our efforts towards meeting the Clean Buildings Act requirements to decarbonization and energy efficiency,” he said.

Trustees confirmed by Senate

The Senate confirmed three trustees to the boards of their colleges this week:

Coming up next week

Budget proposals are expected to be released over the next few days, with hearings scheduled Monday in the House and Senate to hear operating budget bills and Tuesday in the House to hear its version of the capital budget.

In policy committees, legislators are slated to hear bills on creating an oversight board to improve construction-related training in the state's prisons, the bill supporting students who are chronically absent from high school, and a bill that would establish a retail industry work group. The House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Committee is also scheduled to hold a work session on the delayed FAFSA.

Last Modified: 6/13/24, 8:43 AM
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