Committee hearings continue as Legislature wraps up Week 2
The Legislature continued into its second week taking public testimony on bills addressing Workforce Education Investment Act funding. Passed last year, the act created a business and occupation tax surcharge on certain businesses to fund the act's provisions. The Department of Revenue is having difficulty collecting the surcharge. In addition, forecasted demand for the Washington College Grant, created under the Workforce Education Investment Act, is higher than anticipated. The result is a potential funding shortage, which the Legislature is working to address with the two proposals heard this week.
Committees also took up bills on access to higher education and funding options, faculty staffing and housing, and college hiring practices related to sexual misconduct.
Fiscal committees hear bills aimed at anticipated Workforce Education Investment Act funding shortfalls
House and Senate fiscal committees this week took up bills related to funding the Workforce Education Investment Act, which was created in the 2019 legislative session. The act established the Washington College Grant, replacing the State Need Grant, and guarantees tuition and fees to students from a family of four that earns about $50,000 a year or less. The grant provides partial aid to students from families of four that earn up to about $92,000 a year. The act also provides funding to community and technical colleges for Guided Pathways, nursing faculty salary increases and high-demand faculty salary increases. The provisions in the bill would be paid for by a three-tiered Workforce Education Investment surcharge on selected businesses through the business and occupation tax.
The Department of Revenue began collecting the B&O surcharge Jan. 1, but it anticipates problems collecting the dollars because of the act’s complexity. In addition, more students are anticipated to take advantage of the Washington College Grant. The result is that the state may fall short of fully funding the Washington College Grant.
The bills up for hearings, SB 6492 in the Senate and HB 2468 in the House, are efforts to clarify the language in the Workforce Education Investment Act and increase revenue to meet anticipated demand.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee met Tuesday to hear Sen. Jamie Pedersen’s bill that would replace the Workforce Education Investment Act’s B&O surcharge with a general increase in the tax rate from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent for businesses with a gross income of over $1 million. It would also establish a 1.22 percent surcharge on large advanced computing businesses.
“We've heard a lot of positive things about the foundational support for our public higher education institutions, for the support for students who are not going to have to pay to go to college. We want to be able to fulfill those promises,” Pedersen said of his bill. “We have been working on a revision to that revenue structure that will be simpler to administer, more predictable, and sufficient to meet the needs of the state for the investments that we've promised to folks.”
At its Thursday hearing, the House Finance Committee took up Rep. Drew Hansen’s bill that would clarify the types of businesses subject to the B&O surcharge. It would also replace the tiered advanced computing surcharge with a single surcharge of 1.22 percent of a business’ gross service and other income. Hansen was the author and prime sponsor of the Workforce Education Investment Act.
“People are going to college who never thought college was within their reach. They have funding for apprenticeships if college is not a good fit. They have a way to get through some kind of credential and into the workforce, and we are helping people get through college or an apprenticeship, get a degree or credential and get a decent job to support their families,” he said. “I’m excited to do this because I think this is a way that can enable us to keep our commitment to make college more affordable for families across this state, make it easier to administer, and I would respectfully urge your support.”
Dr. Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College, and Matthew Rounsley, legislative intern with the State Board and Centralia College student, testified at both hearings. They were joined Thursday by Bob Ryan, a trustee at Tacoma Community College (TCC) and president-elect of the Washington Association of College Trustees. They told committee members how the Workforce Education Investment Act has affected their colleges and what funding would mean in the future.
Rounsley told committee members of his experience with going to college and financial aid.
“I am the first person in my family to go to college. My parents always encouraged me to go to college and seek higher education because they were unable to. I always knew that I was going to go and seek higher education, but I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do, so I chose to attend community college to find what I was passionate about at a lower cost,” he said. “I am also a fortunate recipient of financial aid, and without that assistance I would never have been able to go to college or find my goals and take this opportunity to testify in front of you.”
“I've worked in Washington state community colleges for 15 years, seven years as president, and for the first time we started the academic year with a full contingent of nursing faculty,” Stokes said. “The best part of that full contingent of nursing faculty is that they were only paid 16 percent below market rate instead of 100 percent below market rate. That was a significant investment in our community and in our ability to admit students into the nursing program.”
He also testified that South Puget Sound is seeing an uptick in enrollment, increases in college-level math and English completion and higher fall to winter quarter retention. Those gains are due to the college’s Guided Pathways efforts begun under a College Spark Washington grant.
Ryan, a certified public accountant whose business is subject to the B&O surcharge, stated that he was happy to pay the additional amount.
“Our business cannot exist without trained educated individuals coming up to help us do that work,” he said. “As I speak to you today, hardworking ambitious students of all ages across our state are completing financial aid applications. Thanks to the Workforce Education Investment Act passed last year, these students will be able to pursue their dreams of going to college, whether it means getting a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, certificate or an apprenticeship.”
Ryan echoed Stokes’ testimony, saying that because of the increased funding for nursing faculty salaries, Tacoma Community College was able to add nursing faculty members and hold a Certified Nursing Assistant program at its Gig Harbor campus. He also said that Guided Pathways efforts at TCC would ultimately help students through college in a more efficient way.
“Last year the Legislature made a bold statement that Washington state is willing to invest in the future of its people and its workforce,” he said. “This bill will help protect that investment and our shared future.”
College Bound housing waiver bill heard in Senate higher education committee
Jan. 23 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took up a bill that would require colleges and universities that offer on-campus housing to provide a one-year on-campus housing waiver to first-year College Bound Scholarship students who are experiencing homelessness. The waiver would be offered on a space available basis.
Sen. Claire Wilson, the prime sponsor of SB 6424, told committee members that the bill was about helping students in their education.
“We want all scholars to succeed, and we want them all to fulfill their potential, and no one should be denied an opportunity for education. That is the road out of poverty and the road to a better life due to social economic hardship. We have inequities that have existed in our systems for years and years and years and this is one way to alleviate that,” she said. “What is modest assistance for a year of helping a student can change the trajectory of their life forever.”
Scott Copeland, associate director for campus relations and policy guidance for the State Board, praised the College Bound program and echoed the concerns about student homelessness. He said the legislation’s intent would be better served through a state funding stream. About half of community and technical colleges offer housing.
“The difficulty we have for us is most of those are public private partnerships, and we do not receive any state funds, they are self-supporting,” Copeland said. “A funding stream would be definitely the important way to get around the waiver option especially because we are dealing with, in a lot of cases, non-campus owned facilities.”
Bills on withholding transcripts for unpaid fines, standardized financial aid award letters, and veteran dependent tuition waivers up for hearings in House College committee
Jan. 22 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee took up its versions of two of Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib’s requested bills along with a bill on tuition waivers for children of eligible veterans at its hearing Wednesday.
Standardizing financial aid information
First up was HB 2523, which would require the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) to develop an online statewide calculator for students to estimate their combined financial aid awards. It would also require WASC and the Council of Presidents, the organization representing the 4-year public universities, to develop clear and consistent financial aid award package standards for college and universities to adopt.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that the bill was about making it easier for students to understand financial aid.
“As someone who has gone through the system, and as someone who works in the system as a high school counselor for 17 years, I have heard the frustration and the numerous barriers that are in the way when our students try to dream of accessing higher education. We don't want to be part of those barriers,” she said. “This streamlines the process for our students. With the investment this committee made last year [the Workforce Education Investment Act], I think it's another tool in the toolbox for our students, and I urge your support of this bill.”
Scott Copeland, associate director for campus relations and policy guidance for the State Board, told the committee that financial aid award letters from community and technical colleges are already standardized across the system. Community and technical colleges also have financial aid programs unique to the 2-year system — like the Opportunity Grant, Basic Food Employment and Training Program (BFET), WorkFirst and Worker Retraining — so award letters would be different than those offered by universities.
Extending veteran dependent tuition waiver
The committee next heard HB 2542, a bill that would provide children of certain veterans eight years from the date of the veterans disability determination to use the veteran and National Guard tuition waiver.
Rep. Dave Paul, the bill’s prime sponsor, said the idea was brought to him by a constituent.
“I think this is especially important because we're seen more and more the case of it's the children of disabled veterans that are their primary caregiver, so providing them a means of finding education for a living wage job I think is critically important,” he said.
Copeland testified in favor of HB 2542. The concern, he said, would be cost. Last school year, colleges waived about $3,030,000 in tuition. Additional waived fees would be about $1 million.
“The good news is this option is available for the dependents of all those that qualify for this waiver. The bad news is we have many, many of them,” he said. “We fully support it, and it makes total sense for all of our service member men and women and their dependents.”
Withholding transcripts for unpaid fines
The committee also took up HB 2513, the companion to SB 6140 which was heard during Jan. 16’s Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. The bill would prohibit colleges and universities from withholding official transcripts as a means of debt collection. It would also prohibit colleges and universities from preventing students from registering for classes because of tuition and fee nonpayment debt.
Rep. Vandana Slatter, a member of the College and Workforce Development Committee and prime sponsor of the bill, said the bill was to help students in the workplace, further their education, and apply for financial aid.
“It can disrupt students' academic progress and their access to jobs that could be used to ultimately pay off debts,” she said. “Under this legislation, students are still accountable to pay back their loans, but I believe that the work has been done and the credits have been achieved.”
Copeland echoed his testimony from the Senate companion's hearing. He also encouraged representatives to consider an amendment that would create a ceiling at which colleges and universities could withhold transcripts and work with the student on a repayment plan or financial counseling.
“We would sure hate to have a $15 parking fine hinder subsequent registration for a student as well as block transcripts for potential transfer to one of our outstanding universities or colleges in the State of Washington, as well as potentially block employment,” he said.
Employee housing, fiscal reporting, hiring practices bills heard in House College committee
Jan. 21 — Three of the four bills on Tuesday’s House College and Workforce Development Committee would affect community and technical colleges. The bills covered housing for community and technical college faculty and employees (HB 2382), uniform reporting of college fiscal details (HB 2654), and hiring practices for prospective employees found culpable or under investigation for sexual misconduct (HB 2327).
Faculty and employee housing
The housing bill would create a state policy supporting affordable housing for community and technical college faculty and employees and permit a community or technical college to operate housing capital projects. Rep. Mari Leavitt, the vice chair of the College and Workforce Development Committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that this bill addresses the state’s shortage of affordable housing and targets it to faculty and employees who often struggle to find housing close to where they work.
“It not only addresses the real challenges of the workforce and community and technical colleges, but also the surrounding area and make sure that we take the opportunity to want to address the housing issue but then also address the workforce shortage that we know exists,” she said.
Jennifer Jones, a geography faculty member at Highline College, and Dr. Jerry Weber, president of Bellevue College, testified in favor of the bill. Jones spoke to how housing would be an asset to faculty and employees, who are often at a college on temporary assignment or need to start teaching quickly.
“Our community and technical colleges need to attract and retain the highest quality employees. In urban areas the high cost of housing may be a barrier to accepting a job offer. In rural areas there may be a shortage of housing near the institution. In either case, faculty and staff have had to accept an unreasonably long commute or refuse the job offer. This has, in turn, made it increasingly difficult to attract and retain qualified employees,” she said.
Weber gave the committee an example of an employee at Bellevue College who may have to move because rent in the area around the college keeps going up. Housing costs, he said, are a barrier to hiring.
“We had employees who said ‘the salary is OK, but I can't afford to live here,’” he said. “So it impacts the recruitment along with those employees who haven't been here a long time and are trying to make ends meet.”
Weber, along with Dr. Amy Morrison, president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, is working on creating partnerships with area non-profits, local government, businesses and other community partners to find housing solutions. Housing, he said, is about creating stability and a sense of security for faculty and employees to reach workforce development goals.
Fiscal detail reporting
Next on the agenda was a bill that would require the State Board to collect and report annual revenue, expenditure and fund balance financial data for each college. Rep. Mike Sells, a member of the College and Workforce Development Committee, said he brought the bill forward to make it easier for people working in college-related policy to make decisions.
“I brought this bill forward because I think it will help those of us who have to deal with policy — local trustees as well as well as the Legislature — so we can get a good consistent picture of what the financial situation looks like in our community colleges, and that will help us make better and possibly quicker decisions,” he said.
Cherie Berthon, operating budget director for the State Board, testified in favor of the bill, saying that much of the information required to be posted is already online.
“I'd like to point out that the community technical colleges also support financial transparency. In fact much of the information that's included in this bill is currently available on our website at the level of the college,” she said.
Berthon asked to work with representatives on extending the implementation timeline from June 30 to allow the system to implement rules and create consistency.
Hiring practices related to sexual misconduct
The final bill on the agenda would change college hiring practices for applicants under investigation for sexual misconduct or with substantiated complaints or allegations of sexual misconduct. The anticipated bill was prime sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet, a member of the College and Workforce Development Committee. He told the committee that he brought the bill forward in an effort to prevent people with substantiated sexual misconduct complaints or allegations or who are under investigation from moving from institution to institution. Pollet is also a professor with the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
“The result of which is all of our constituents who are students — many of you, like myself, have seen our own children — are placed at great risk by what I think is an unconscionable pattern that has gone on for far, far too long,” he said. “This bill is aimed at creating very clear standards for ending this.”
Ed McCallister, human resources director for the State Board, expressed support for the bill and appreciation for Rep. Pollet’s efforts to work with colleges and universities to draft it. McCallister also supported the bill’s provision that would require the Washington Student Achievement Council to develop a statewide campus climate assessment to gauge the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campuses. He hoped, however, that the Legislature would include funding for the first assessment as the complexity and labor required would be beyond the capacity of the college system.
Staffing ratio, apprenticeship scholarship bills topics in Senate Higher Education committee
Jan. 21 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Tuesday heard a bill that would affect faculty staffing practices (SB 6405) and another that would allow the Dual Enrollment Scholarship program to be used for apprenticeships (SB 6374).
Faculty staffing practices
The first bill, SB 6405, would require the State Board to create and implement a plan resulting in 70 percent of the faculty employed at community and technical colleges to be full-time tenured or tenure tracked by the end of the 2027-28 school year. The bill also requires part-time faculty receive equal pay for equal work and defining that amount to be 85 percent of full-time faculty pay.
Sen. Derek Stanford, vice chair of the committee explained why he prime sponsored the bill. Community and technical colleges are increasingly relying on part-time adjunct faculty, he said, who receive lower pay and benefits than full-time faculty, and don’t have a long-term employment commitment from a college.
“And all of these have the effect of reducing the amount of time that they can really devote to the students, which is what they want to do,” he said. “And we know that it would be better for the adjunct faculty — it would be better for the students — if we could move to a system where we make these positions full time.”
John Boesenberg, deputy executive director for business operations at the State Board, testified on behalf of the colleges, expressing the system’s continued support for increasing the number of full-time faculty on campuses, converting part-time to full-time faculty positions, and improving part-time faculty salaries. The concern with this bill, he said, is that it does not include a reference to funding — does not make the progress required contingent upon the receipt of funding. He referenced a budget request from a previous legislative session that would have provided about $10 million to hire 180 full-time faculty.
Boesenberg also stressed the importance of allowing colleges to make their own local staffing decisions and developing employment practices, rather than setting statewide staffing and policies as the bill would require.
Dual credit apprenticeship materials funding
Also up on the Senate higher education committee’s agenda was a bill that would allow eligible Running Start students to use the Dual Enrollment Scholarship for apprenticeship materials. The Legislature created the scholarship program as a pilot in 2019. Under the current program, the award for Running Start students includes funding for fees and a textbook voucher.
Sen. Jeff Holy, the ranking member on the committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that he sees the trades being disincentivized while high school curriculum is changing to prepare students for a four-year degree.
“I think that’s terribly misguided,” he said. “We need to provide some of the same access to kids in high school that actually have an eye towards a career track that would be in the trades.”
Scott Copeland, associate director for campus relations and policy guidance at the State Board, testified in favor of the bill. Materials costs for some apprenticeship programs can rise to $1,500 to $2,000, he told committee members, which means students who can’t afford that expense likely won’t pursue those programs.
“This evens the playing field for the trades, just as it does with dual credit programs that are out there,” he said.
Trustees confirmed by Senate
The following trustees were confirmed by the Senate this week:
- Jonathon Lane, Big Bend Community College, confirmed Jan. 22
- Christon Skinner, Skagit Valley College, confirmed Jan. 24
Coming up next week
With two weeks before the Legislature's first cutoff date on Feb. 7, committees are scheduling executive sessions to vote on bills. Up for votes next week are the creating prison to postsecondary education pathways bill, the House versions of Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib's bills, and veteran and veteran-dependent tuition waivers. We will have a wrap-up of bill statuses in next week's Legislative News.
Up for hearings are SB 6439, the Senate companion to HB 2327, the bill addressing college hiring practices related to sexual misconduct, and SB 6505, a bill which would require colleges to waive Running Start students' expenses like textbooks and fees.