Editorial: Help community colleges meet job training needs

Lost in the focus on K-12 school funding, have been the needs of community and technical colleges.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Two weeks into a short, 60-day session, the Legislature has its work cut out just to finish up a solution for ample funding for K-12 education, pass a capital budget and resolve a dispute over water rights that has held up passage of that construction budget.

Resolution of education funding, which the governor and others believe will require up to $1 billion in additional funding this session, must get done, but lawmakers also should consider the needs of students at the state’s community and technical colleges.

During last year’s two-year budget session, the state’s 34 community and technical colleges — more than half of which are concentrated along the I-5 corridor between Everett and Olympia — sought $200 million in additional funding to address needs and support new and existing programs throughout the system.

They received $15 million.

Understanding the constraints the state faces to pull together necessary funding for K-12 education, the state’s community and technical colleges are back this year, but they’re not asking for the $185 million they didn’t get last year. About $16 million would do, said Arlen Harris, legislative director for the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

That supplemental funding includes:

$9 million to help the colleges make up lost ground between what the state requires them to pay faculty and other staff and revenue lost following the Legislature’s recent tuition freeze. Community and technical colleges now are having to use a larger share of tuition revenue for employee compensation than the state provides, said David Beyer, president of Everett Community College.

$3.7 million for specific colleges that are facing faculty staffing issues that would move some faculty from part-time to full-time status.

$2.2 million for support of the Guided Pathways program that seeks to offer more support and guidance to students in designing their educations toward specific career paths. The money would set aside $100,000 each for 22 colleges that had not received earlier start-up funds for the program.

$745,000 for additional financial aid support for about 9,000 students through the State Need Grant and Opportunity Pathways programs and worker retraining, providing students additional aid to meet the 2.2 percent tuition increase in 2018 and a 2 percent increases in 2019.

Although not an additional revenue request, the state community college board also wants the Legislature to move the colleges’ maintenance and operation funding, which pays for maintenance work, utility costs and maintenance staff salaries, back to the state’s operating budget. Currently, that funding is allocated through the state’s capital budget and this year totals $11.4 million in projects and other funding caught up in a legislative tussle from last year.

The Legislature was unable last year to pass a $4 billion capital construction budget that would have funded construction of schools, community centers, housing projects and other needs, including the $11.4 million in maintenance costs for community colleges but also $39.2 million for a new STEM building at Edmonds Community College and $4 million for initial work for a new library for Everett Community College and WSU Everett.

When Republicans and Democrats couldn’t come to agreement on a bill to address a water rights case stemming from a state Supreme Court case, known as the Hirst decision, Senate Republicans refused to consider passage of the capital budget. That stalemate resulted in a lost construction season and the delay of scores of projects across the state. For some projects it has meant the likely loss of federal grant funding.

Legislators reportedly reached a deal on the Hirst decision Thursday, which is expected to clear the way for adoption of the delayed capital budget and its bond funding.

But the Senate Republicans decision to use the capital budget as leverage last year — and end the session without a capital budget for the first time in decades — now makes it easier for either party to use the same tactic the next time there’s a stalemate between parties or the House and Senate.

The threat the capital budget could again be held hostage provides ample reason for the Legislature to, at least, remove basic maintenance costs for state facilities out of the capital budget and back into the maintenance and operation budget, reversing a change that was made in 2003.

The state’s 34 community and technical colleges are playing an indespensible role in educating and preparing students for further study and advanced degrees at universities but also for more immediate jobs with employers throughout the state, particuarly in manufacturing and other trades.

With some 740,000 job openings in the state expected over the next five years — and more than half of those requiring post-high school education and training — community and technical colleges represent the best option for many of those students.

The state has set a goal that 70 percent of all adults have post-secondary education, training and creditials by 2023. To meet that goal, community colleges will need to produce 228,000 more graduates.

As important as it is to meet the needs of K-12 education, the needs of community and technical colleges now require state lawmakers’ attention.

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