Friday, February 13, 2015

Bills advance before first cutoff date

One week to go! The first policy cutoff date is Feb. 20 and the Legislature is hard at work hearing testimony and voting on bills. Committee members in the House and Senate heard community and technical college system request bills on Basic Education for Adults, corrections education and fee waivers for active duty military members.

Committee considers adult basic education, minimum GPA for financial aid

Feb. 12 — A proposal to require students to maintain a 2.5 GPA to renew their State Need Grant received a hearing before the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Scott Copeland, SBCTC student services policy associate, explained that community and technical colleges already have a minimum 2.0 GPA. He shared several concerns about SB 5547: The bill could derail students, delay their time to graduation, entice them to take easier coursework, or create a roadblock for transferring to a university that requires less than a 2.5 GPA.

The Senate also heard testimony on SB 5619, which calls for a caseload method of funding Basic Education for Adults programs. Jon Kerr and Nick Lutes of SBCTC and Lori Griffin of Pierce College mirrored their earlier testimony before the House Higher Education Committee. (See their Feb. 10 testimony on companion measure HB 1705.)

Also testifying on the bill was Merrill Williams, a former adult basic education student at South Puget Sound Community College who will graduate this summer and attend The Evergreen State College.

 “I had been out of school for 35 years. I was a crack addict. I came in and built a community within the classroom. This gave me a sense of pride and dignity,” she said.

The Senate Higher Education Committee also heard testimony on SB 5676, a bill that would require the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to offer more than one high school equivalency test, beyond the current GED®.

Lou Sager, SBCTC high school equivalency administrator, repeated concerns she shared Feb. 10 with the House Higher Education Committee on companion measure HB 1743.

“Please reconsider offering a less rigorous test that will confuse test-takers and employers, add costs to the test centers and increase the gap for those students most in need of the skills to get a living wage job,” she said.

·         Copeland testimony starts at 47:39
·         Kerr, Lutes, Griffin and Williams testimony starts at 55:49
·         Sager testimony starts at 1:33:19

House committee hears agency bills on corrections education, fees

Feb. 11 — Members of the House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on three bills affecting community and technical colleges.

HB 1704 would allow the Department of Corrections to fund associate degree programs in prison. Dr. Luke Robins, Peninsula College president, testified in favor of the agency-request measure. Peninsula is one of eight community colleges offering correctional education programs.

“Gainful employment post-release is a win for both the state and the correctional inmate,” Robins said. “Providing additional post-secondary educational opportunities for inmates is both evidence-based and cost-effective.”

Also testifying in favor of the bill was Loretta Taylor, Walla Walla Community College director of corrections education, and Eric Flint, a former inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary who earned an associate degree, funded through a private grant, while incarcerated.

“This has given me the opportunity to be a success, provide for my family and for those around me, and to give back to my community,” Flint said.

HB 1706, also an agency-request bill, would allow colleges to waive building and service and activity fees for active duty military members. Through rule changes, the Defense Department’s Tuition Assistance Program no longer covers those fees, requiring the student to pay out of pocket. This bill is the House version of SB 5620, which passed the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Alison Grazzini, SBCTC legislative director, testified in favor of the House bill.

“As you can imagine, we are concerned [about the] approximately 2,500 active duty military members within the community and technical college system who are returning from deployment. We’re concerned they’ll face additional fees when coming back to our campuses,” she said. “This bill picks up where the tuition assistance program leaves off.”

HB 1825 would modify the definition of resident student to comply with federal requirements established by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

“We support this bill,” said Scott Copeland, SBCTC student services policy associate. “To be perfectly blunt, failure to pass this and align with the federal regulations [means] none of the current 15,000 students on educational benefits that our sector serves will be eligible any longer for their veterans benefits.”

This bill is the House companion bill to SB 5355, which the Senate Higher Education Committee amended and passed.

·         Robins testimony starts at 15:31
·         Taylor testimony starts at 17:41
·         Flint testimony starts at 19:48
·         Grazzini testimony starts at 44:17
·         Copeland testimony starts at 37:15

Student association-backed bill heard in House committee

Feb. 11 — Alexandra Minea, representing the Washington Community and Technical College Student Association (WACTCSA), testified before the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee on a bill to allow students to use electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards on campus. HB 1820 would require the Department of Social and Health Services to request the necessary federal exemption. About 19,000 community and technical college students are eligible for EBT cards.

“Our goal is to make it more convenient for students to have access to nutritional food on campus with the use of their electronic benefit transfer cards,” Minea said.

Adult Basic Education, GED® and budget details topic of House testimony

Feb. 10 — System representatives made the case for dedicated funding for Basic Education Programs for Adults at a House Higher Education Committee meeting. They spoke in favor of HB 1705, saying the measure would allow more Washingtonians to learn the skills needed to move up in the world.

Basic Education for Adults programs provide basic skills for adults who lack a high-school level education. When state-budget cuts hit, these programs are often the most vulnerable because they don’t bring in tuition revenue. Students pay only $25 per quarter for classes, but many colleges waive the fee for students who cannot afford that amount.

House Bill 1705 would tie state funding to a caseload model, much like the K-12 system. This would provide more reliable funding based on the number of students who actually come through the door.

Jon Kerr, SBCTC Basic Education for Adults director, testified in favor of the agency-request bill, noting that about 700,000 Washington adults lack basic skills needed for college and careers.

“Stable caseload funding would allow us to expand capacity, greatly increasing student access, transition to postsecondary education and completion,” he said. “And most importantly, it would provide family sustaining job opportunities for our basic skills adults while meeting the needs of Washington’s 21st century workforce.”

Nick Lutes, SBCTC operating budget director, discussed the policy goals behind the bill. “Basic skills has suffered during the recession,” he said. “The policy goal here is to isolate and dedicate funding for the program.”

Lori Griffin, Pierce College dean for transitional education, gave examples of innovative and successful basic education programs. These include I-DEA (Integrated Digital English Acceleration), an English language program that uses a “flipped” classroom approach. Students complete online modules to learn, practice and develop knowledge of concepts before coming to class. They then use classroom time to apply and practice what they’ve learned.

Taleah Mitchell, discussed how she went from a fourth-grade level education in Chicago to becoming an assistant manager at Nordstrom thanks to Seattle Central College’s I-BEST program. I-BEST pairs basic education with hands-on job experience so students learn in real-world settings.

“I had a whole plethora of people not only supporting me but giving me the structure and skills and teaching me how to take that next step,” she said.

The Higher Education Committee also turned its attention to HB 1743. The bill would require the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to offer another type of high school equivalency test in addition to the 2014 GED®.

Lou Sager, SBCTC high school equivalency administrator, explained that the GED® was selected by an independent group of adult educators and other stakeholders. They compared the costs and rigor of various tests and recommended the GED®. The pass rate in Washington is 71 percent, she said. And while the number of students taking the test has dropped, that’s typical whenever a new test is launched. The new test has only been in effect for one year and faculty face a learning curve with the curricula.

“The new test began just a year ago, so we’ve only had a year to look at it. We have a 71 percent pass rate, which we’re very proud of, as it is one of the highest in the nation,” she said in testimony.

Sager explained that she took the GED® when she was a welfare mother of three in 1993. “I am the last person who would ever want to put a barrier in front of a student to get a living wage job or further education,” she said.

The committee moved onto HB 1893, which would require SBCTC to post on its website detailed budget information about the use of local funds at each of the 34 colleges. Nick Lutes, SBCTC operating budget director, explained that the agency is already required to report revenue sources by college and how tuition revenue is spent. Students are given a link on their tuition statements. SBCTC also posts online an “Academic Year Report,” which provides multiple perspectives on college expenditures.

Several faculty members spoke in favor of both HB 1743 and HB 1893.

·         Sager testimony starts at 34:54

Faculty compensation bill comes before House Labor Committee

Feb. 10 — Community and technical college faculty have gone without state funding for step increases since 2008. Increments or step increases are funded through a combination of local turnover savings and state funds. State funds cover about two-thirds of the cost. The lack of state funding has resulted in faculty only receiving partial payment for their earned step increases.

HB 1863 would require community and technical colleges to fund negotiated step increases — up to a certain amount — even if the Legislature doesn’t provide funding. The cap is 1.2 percent of the college’s faculty salary base.

Testifying before the House Labor Committee, Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director, expressed appreciation for faculty representatives’ support of a cap. However, he said the Legislature should bear the responsibility for funding faculty compensation. Brown urged the Legislature to fund the community and technical college system’s $10.2 million request for faculty step increases.

“We believe this has been, and should be, primarily a state obligation,” he said. “Faculty and staff salaries and increments are our system’s top priority but we can’t manage increments and salary increases without general fund dollars from the state. We will continue to work with our faculty and work with you to get an equitable and predictable solution to our faculty and colleges.”

The governor’s compensation proposal would make matters worse, Brown said, because it would pay only the general fund portion of salaries, resulting in a $28 million unfunded mandate.

Testifying in favor of the measure were Wendy Rader-Konofalski and Bernal Baca, government liaisons for the Washington Education Association and American Federation of Teachers Washington respectively. Both said they welcome continued conversation with the State Board and college presidents to find a solution. Several faculty members also spoke in favor of the bill.

Coming up next week

Next week, the Legislative session reaches its first cutoff date — bills must be passed out of their house of origin’s policy committees by the end of Friday. SBCTC system request bills on corrections education and military member fee waivers are scheduled for committee votes, and a bill to streamline statues affecting the college system is scheduled for a public hearing.