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State senators voted 47-0 to approve legislation that will allow the loans to cover part or all of tuition at the training center at Paine Field and the soon-to-open Spokane Technology Center.
The bill passed the House earlier this month and now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature. She was expected to sign it today.
Supporters said the roughly $4,800 cost for a certificate program can be a financial obstacle that deters would-be students. They hope the availability of loans will remove that barrier.
"I feel we cannot afford to let this opportunity pass," said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, one of the forces behind the bill. "The problem is we can't train people fast enough, and that's exactly what this aerospace training center is meant to do."
Gov. Chris Gregoire endorsed the concept at a Washington Aerospace Council meeting earlier this year. She also made clear the state won't be putting up any money at first because of its budget constraints.
Sponsors of the bill knew this. The program is designed to operate with revenues from nonstate sources and ultimately to be self-sustaining.
Finding start-up dollars will fall upon the shoulders of people such as Linda Lanham, executive director of the Aerospace Futures Alliance, who lobbied hard for the bill.
"This is very exciting. This opportunity means the industry will always have access to the skilled work force they need and potential students to receive a good family wage job," she said. "We will continue to look for creative ways to fund the program."
Under the bill, the state Higher Education Coordinating Board will run the Aerospace Training Student Loan Program.
To be eligible for a loan, a student must be registered for a training program, be making satisfactory progress in the course and have a declared intention to work in the aerospace industry in Washington. Loan amounts will depend on how much of the tuition costs a student can afford.
The training center opened last summer at Paine Field and offers certificate programs in aerospace manufacturing and aerospace assembly mechanic. It also offers customized training for aerospace companies.
Those who complete an 11-week certificate program get interviews with Boeing.
Since opening last June, the training center has graduated 140 students, and about half of those graduates have landed jobs, center officials have said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org
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