Friday, February 22, 2013

Policy cut-off winnows bill list

For legislators serving on fiscal committees, the next few days will be hectic as executive session schedules grow exponentially. Bills surviving today’s first cut-off to pass out of policy committees have until Friday, March 1 to clear fiscal committees. Bills have until Wednesday, March 13, to be sent to the opposite chamber to start the whole process all over again.

Budget bills and bills considered "necessary to implement the budget" are exempt from these early cut-off deadlines. Next week’s edition will include a round-up of bills of significant impact to community and technical colleges that survive today’s Feb. 22 policy cut-off.

College degree programs bill clears House Committee

A bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, that would allow the Department of Corrections to fund college degree programs in prison, won the support of the House Higher Education Committee on Thursday. Current law allows the department to offer adult basic education and vocational training, but bars the department from providing for college degree programs.
In earlier testimony on Wednesday, Jacquie Armstrong, SBCTC policy associate for corrections, testified in favor of the measure, pointing out that prison education interrupts generational poverty, reduces recidivism, and increases wages.
Joe Small, Walla Walla Community College dean of corrections, said the college’s AA degree program is funded by a third-party and not the state. “It’s given them hope, and it’s given them self confidence that they can go out there and do something important and take care of themselves and their families,” he said.

Gina McConnell, Seattle Central Community College student, testified she was able to escape street life and stay out of prison thanks to the self-confidence she gained in a prison horticulture program. “I thought of myself as nothing but a street monger and did not believe that I was worth more than anything other than to die a statistic. I know that (education) has changed my life and it gave me a purpose.” She recently started working for the King County juvenile court system, reunifying parents and children.
A similar story of hope was offered by Kevin Miller, who earned a computer information system program certificate and later an AA degree while at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla and the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. He has been out of prison for seven months and is now enrolled at Washington State University. “The reason I’m here is because of the transfer degree I earned. I’m employed. I have housing. A lot of wonderful things are happening in my life. My transition has been successful because of the opportunities I had while I was incarcerated.”

State financial aid for immigrant children wins support

The House Higher Education Committee on Thursday approved Substitute House Bill 1817 by Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, to extend state financial aid to undocumented students often referred to as “DREAMers.” More details about this measure will be featured in the next edition of Legislative News after further staff analysis.

Expanded role for Centers of Excellence considered

On Thursday, the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing and took action on Substitute House Bill 1823 concerning the Centers of Excellence.
The Centers of Excellence (COE) are currently created and operated under the auspices of the community and technical college system. Centers work with employers, other colleges, career and technical education programs in regional high schools, skill centers, and labor representatives to develop curriculum and training programs and to promote best practices in education and training to support the targeted industry.
The bill expands the role of COEs to include acting as central sources of information for businesses in targeted industries and working with K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and apprenticeship programs.
Jim Crabbe, SBCTC director of workforce education, and Barbara Hins-Turner, Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy executive director, testified in support with concerns.
At present, the centers are largely self-support, with base funding of only $154,000 per year for each of the 10 centers. Crabbe said the additional cost for the system would be an estimated $1.6 million (for 1.5 FTE employees at each of 10 COEs and one FTE at SBCTC for administration/grant coordination).
Bill sponsor, Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, asked if the system would entertain running a pilot or two instead. Crabbe was open to the idea, with appropriate funding, saying the expansion is laudable, but without additional resources it’s a “bridge too far.”
Hins-Turner said that in the face of economic and budget uncertainties, the centers have experienced high turnover, losing 12 directors since their inception. In her role since 2005, she is the longest-serving COE director. The short-term nature of externally funded, project-based grants also leads to fluctuations in staff levels as grants expire.
She said the centers with the greatest accomplishments are those which have secured external funding, whose directors have some longevity, and have formed strong partnerships with industry and labor.
The bill passed out of committee Wednesday.

Bill requires colleges inform students about multiple ways to place into pre-college classes

On Tuesday, the Senate Higher Education Committee heard Senate Bill 5712 which encourages colleges to make students aware of the several ways — in addition to placement tests — to determine the need for precollege courses.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, requires SBCTC to encourage colleges to use multiple measures to determine whether a student must enroll in a pre-college course including — but not limited to — placement tests, the SAT, high school transcripts, college transcripts, or initial class performance.
Michelle Andreas, SBCTC director of student services and transfer education, testified in support, and said our community and technical colleges have made a major effort to study and review pre-college efforts and best practices for placing students in remedial courses.
“While colleges do not have clearly posted options for multiple measures,” she said, “we are happy to do so.”
She said research shows that multiple tools to assess multiple populations show better results, so colleges are working to use different measures, such as high school grade point average, as a predictor of college success.
Colleges are also working with local high schools and mapping course-taking patterns to determine placement in college. High school and college faculty-to-faculty collaboration has been helping in aligning curriculum.
The bill passed out of committee today and awaits further action.

Companion TANF bills heard

On Tuesday, the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee and the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee heard companion bills regarding the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Senate Bill 5643, sponsored by Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, and House Bill 1734, sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, would significantly expand exemptions and hardship extensions to the 60-month TANF time limit.
Most significant was the option for an extension for residents in counties that had an unemployment rate of six percent or more. Rep. Sawyer shared substitute language regarding circumstances beyond the parent's control and the impact on economically disadvantaged counties. The substitute removes all new exemption categories except for the hardship exemption allowed when a family receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Persons lives in a county where the rate of unemployment is 10 percent or higher.
Rick Krauss, SBCTC policy associate, testified that the SBCTC supports a more flexible approach to time limits for students with challenges. Krauss highlighted some of the programs – parenting skills, family support, college orientation, I-BEST, community partnerships – the system developed to support WorkFirst students in their college engagement, retention, and successful completion.
In both hearings, advocate representatives spoke in support. David Stillman, DSHS Economic Services Administration, said the substitute bill addresses some of their concerns, but there are still several issues with the legislation they could help resolve.
Representatives of advocate organizations testified in support as this legislation recognized issues beyond a participant's control and the adverse impact on children for the loss of TANF support.

Defining work and extending education and training time for WorkFirst

On Tuesday, the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 5600 which would revise the definition of WorkFirst work activities to include education and training provided by CTCs.
Sponsored by Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, the bill would also increase the maximum length of time for vocational education from the current 12 months to 24.
Rick Krauss, SBCTC policy associate, spoke in support, explaining how the current 12-month limit does not allow students to pursue two-year vocational degrees. “Students struggle to finish within 12 months, because they need to take prerequisites [to get to college-level work],” he said. “And to be eligible for the training, students also have to work 20 hours a week, which is a challenge because most have children.”
Its companion bill, HB 1342, passed out of committee last week and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee.