Friday, February 20, 2015

Legislature reaches first cutoff date: policy bills must advance out of committee

The Legislature reaches the session’s first cutoff date today: bills must advance out their originating house’s policy committees by the end of the day today to continue in the legislative process. House and Senate committees took action on community and technical college system request bills on corrections education, Basic Education for Adults, fee waivers and streamlining statues.

State Need Grant, streamlining statutes bills heard

Feb. 19 — Members of the Senate Higher Education Committee took testimony on two bills affecting the community and technical college system — one would make permanent changes to the State Need Grant for part-time students, and the other would streamline statutes.

Currently, students may take as little as three credit hours per quarter (or the semester equivalent) to receive or renew State Need Grants. Already in effect under the 2013-15 operating budget, this threshold would become permanent under SB 5638. Need Grant awards are prorated depending on the number of credit a student takes.

“With our students — non-traditional, many single parents, many have children, many have employment opportunities part-time or full-time — life does get in the way occasionally,” said Scott Copeland, SBCTC policy associate for student services. “This allows that momentum to continue so they can progress toward their certificate or degree.”

Copeland reiterated that the bill provides eligibility with no additional costs.

Senators also took up a college system request bill to streamline community and technical college-related statutes (SB 5977). Alison Grazzini, SBCTC legislative director, testified in favor of the bill. This bill is the Senate companion to HB 1961, to which Grazzini testified Tuesday during the House Higher Education Committee hearing.

·         Copeland testimony starts at 12:20
·         Grazzini testimony starts at 53:05

Senators hear how tuition plan would affect colleges

Feb. 17 — Members of the Senate Higher Education Committee heard testimony on SB 5954, which would tie resident undergraduate tuition to a percent of the state’s average wage for all public higher education institutions. The percents vary depending on whether the college is a community or technical college, a regional university or a research university.

The Legislature would be required to keep, at a minimum, the allocations provided in the 2013-15 operating budget, plus additional funding to backfill any reductions in tuition revenue. Colleges and universities could not reduce their enrollments below the 2014-15 academic year levels.

For community and technical colleges, the bill would reduce annual tuition by about $58.  However, community and technical colleges systemwide would lose about $7 million per year because the colleges set different tuitions for two-year and four-year degrees.

Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director, testified on behalf of Washington’s community and technical colleges.

“We do really respect the fact that you’re trying to reduce or at least maintain tuition because we understand the anxieties of high tuition and student debt,” he said. “[We] want to work with you continually on that.”

Anticipating savings to the State Need Grant, the bill would allow the Legislature to reduce appropriations to the program. Brown recommended protecting the State Need Grant from cuts and using any savings to serve more eligible students.

Committee members also held trustee confirmation hearings for Teresita Batayola, Seattle College District, Kathryn Bennett, Skagit Valley College, and Doris Wood, Centralia College.

The committee also took executive action on the system-request bill that calls for a caseload method of funding Basic Education for Adults (SB 5619) programs and made four trustee appointments.

·         Batayola testimony starts at 16:27
·         Bennett testimony starts at 18:10
·         Wood testimony starts at 31:12
·         Brown testimony starts at 47:46

Textbooks, advising, regulation cleanup heard in House committee

Feb. 17 — The House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on several bills affecting community and technical colleges.

HB 1958 would bar colleges and universities from assigning textbooks that cost more than $100, unless there were no comparable alternatives or open course materials available. Alexandra Minea and Robert Lasker testified in favor of the measure on behalf of the Washington Community and Technical College Student Association.

“If students are not able to afford [textbooks], often times they opt out of their classes and this prolongs their time for graduation,” Minea said.

She also pointed out that textbook revisions are often minimal and not always warranted. “What are the changes within these new editions? It may just be that the font has changed.”

HB 1961 is a system request bill to remove old bond statutes, clean up regulations and tie up loose ends from technical colleges’ 1991 move from the K-12 system to the two-year college system. Alison Grazzini, SBCTC legislative director, testified in favor of the measure.

“We appreciate the opportunity to participate in good government cleanup, thereby improving our ability to focus on the kinds of services that today’s Legislature has asked us to do, such as improving access and affordability to the nearly 400,000 students we serve each year.”

HB 1982 would create an “Innovations for Student Completion Program” for community and technical colleges. The program would include proactive advising and mentoring, new student orientation and student success courses. It would also include degree or certificate mapping and career counseling. An early alert component would connect advisors to classroom data so they could intervene when a student is at-risk of not completing. Students who drop out before graduating would be “recaptured,” and an attendance pilot project would be created at one college chosen by the State Board.

Jan Yoshiwara, SBCTC deputy director for education services, pointed out that advising is a priority in the system’s 2015-17 operating budget request. She also shared a concern about the possibility of an unfunded mandate.

“If funds are not appropriated to implement this bill, we would be left with an unfunded mandate and have to make very difficult choices between quality instruction and quality advising. We need both.”

Mary Chikwinya, Tacoma Community College vice president for student services, discussed the “Declared and Prepared” advising model. Incoming TCC students participate in student orientation, are assessed for college-readiness, participate in student success courses, and are assigned an advisor. Once students finish the first level of college math and English, they are “Declared and Prepared” and assigned to a faculty advisor who helps them stay on track.

“Career Coaches” help students clarify their goals and create an education plan for their entire course of study. “Completion Coaches” focus on retrieving students who drop out just shy of 10 or 15 credits of completion.

“We reach out to those students, try to work with them, help them identify what they need to complete — whether it’s at our college or somewhere else. They can transfer those credits back and get their AA degree,” she said.

·         Minea and Lasker testimony begins at 8:20
·         Grazzini testimony begins at 1:09:15
·         Yoshiwara and Chikwinya testimony begins at 1:21:47

Bill update

After today’s first policy committee cutoff, here are the system request bills still in play:

HB 1704 (Pettigrew)Allows community and technical colleges to provide associate degrees in corrections institutions within existing funds through an ongoing contract with the Department of Corrections. This bill passed House Higher Education and has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

A similar measure, SB 5354 (Hargrove), did not pass the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

HB 1705 (Haler)/SB 5619 (Bailey)Ties Basic Education for Adults program funding to a caseload model. These bills passed their respective higher education committees and have been referred to House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means Committees.

HB 1706 (Stanford)/SB 5620 (Bailey)Grants permissive waivers for building and student and activity fees for active duty military. These bills passed their respective higher education committees and have been referred to the Rules Committees.

HB 1961 (Zeiger)/SB 5977 (Bailey)streamlines statutes governing the community and technical college system by expiring old bonds, defunded programs, pilots, and waivers. These bills passed their respective higher education committees and have been referred to the Rules Committees.

Coming up next week

Next week, the Legislature’s fiscal committees will be hard at work before their Friday cutoff date. All bills in those committees must be passed in order to continue moving in the Legislative process.