The Washington State Legislature adjourned sine die last night, marking the end of the special session that immediately followed the conclusion of the 60-day regular legislative session on March 10. The special session concluded after the House of Representatives and Senate each voted to approve the state’s 2016 supplemental operating and capital budgets after weeks of negotiation. The Legislature adopted a supplemental transportation budget during the regular session.
This blog post provides an overview of the 2016 legislative session with an emphasis on budget and policy issues that impact Western and the state’s higher education system. For additional information, you can find a chronology of events from throughout the legislative session in the WLR’s archived posts section. For a comparison of how each budget proposal from throughout the session impacts Western, click here.
The 2016 supplemental operating budget (2ESHB 2376) includes a total increase of $191 million in spending to the underlying $38.2 billion 2015-17 biennial operating budget that was adopted in July. Spending priorities in the proposed budget include $190 million from the Budget Stabilization Account to fund fire-related costs incurred by the state in 2015, $40 million for mental health programs and the state’s two psychiatric hospitals, and $7 million to recruit and retain beginning educators and K-12 staff.
For Western, the supplemental operating budget includes $802,000 in new funding to backfill the resident undergraduate tuition reductions approved by the Legislature last year. Western also received $250,000 in one-time state funding for the establishment of the Jaffe Professorship in Jewish History and Holocaust Studies.
The supplemental budget also includes a proviso establishing a work group with one representative from each regional public baccalaureate institution to study the benefits, challenges, and best practices surrounding accelerated degree programs. The work group is required to report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature by December 31, 2016.
In addition, the supplemental budget also includes the following appropriations and provisos with relevance to Western:
- $18 million to maintain current services levels of the State Need Grant (SNG) and College Bound Scholarship programs.
- The Educational Research & Data Center (ERDC) is tasked with evaluating the SNG and reporting on its findings by December 1, 2016. The SNG evaluation must include analysis of SNG recipient grade point average and its relationship to positive outcomes and possible outcomes of requiring a minimum grade point average, per quarter or cumulatively, for SNG renewal.
- Beginning July 1, 2016, and all institutions of higher education eligible to participate in the SNG must transmit the following data to the ERDC: (1) The number of SNG recipients; (2) the number of students on the unserved waiting list of the SNG; (3) Persistence and completion rates of SNG recipients and students on the SNG unserved waiting list; (4) Grade point averages of SNG recipients and students on SNG unserved waiting list; and (5) SNG program costs.
- $1.14 million is appropriated to the WA Student Achievement Council (WSAC) for the purpose of addressing the teacher shortage, which includes the following allocations:
- $468,000 for the Teacher Shortage Conditional Grant Program;
- $468,000 for the Student Teaching Residency Grant Program; and
- $208,000 for the development and implementation of the Teacher Shortage Conditional Grant Program and the Student Teaching Residency Grant Program.
- $500,000 is appropriated to the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) to develop a teacher recruitment initiative and to enhance an existing web-based depository for teacher job postings across the state.
- Higher education institutions with teacher preparation programs are required to incorporate information on the culture, history, and government of American Indian people in Washington by integrating SPI curriculum into existing programs.
STEM degree enrollment expansion:
- $6 million is appropriated for the Washington Opportunity Expansion program for grant awards to institutions of higher education to increase the number of baccalaureate degrees in high employer demand fields. This funding will be used by the WA Opportunity Scholarship Board to offer competitive grants for institutions of higher education with proposals to directly increase the number baccalaureate degrees produced in high employer demand and other programs of study.
South King County Higher Education Needs Assessment:
- $250,000 is appropriated to the WSAC to conduct a higher education needs assessment in the Southeast King County area.
For-Profit School System Study:
- $180,000 is appropriated to the WSAC to conduct a study of for-profit institutions and private vocational schools in the state.
Resident Undergraduate Enrollment:
- For the 2016-17 academic year, if the university’s full-time equivalent annual average resident undergraduate enrollment increases by more than one percent from the 2015-16 academic year, for purposes of calculating state funding for the tuition reduction backfill, only a one percent growth rate or the university’s preceding five-year average percentage full-time equivalent enrollment change, whichever is greater, may be used in calculating the backfill.
The 2016 supplemental capital budget (ESHB 2380) includes a total increase of $95.4 million to the 2015-17 biennial capital budget, including $89.7 million in general obligation bonds. In addition, reappropriations are reduced by a total of $39.8 million, including a reduction of $423,000 in general obligation bonds.
The supplemental capital budget reflects no significant change for Western to the underlying biennial capital budget.
Policy Bills Approved by the Legislature
Although a number of higher education policy proposals were introduced in the House and Senate during the 2016 session, only a handful of such bills successfully passed through both legislative chambers. Below is a list of bills approved during the session that pertain to higher education along with other bills directly impacting Western.
Senate Bill 5928, sponsored by Senator Bruce Dammeier, authorizes Bellevue College to offer a BS degree in computer science. Under SB 5928, Bellevue College is allowed to charge tuition fees for the program above the AA degree level, as long as the tuition rates do not exceed rates at the state’s regional universities.
Senate Bill 6354, sponsored by Senator Marko Liias, requires each public university to develop plans for facilitating the reverse transfer of academic credits from four-year institutions to community and technical colleges. Western already permits reverse transfer and is minimally impacted by this legislation.
Financial Aid and Student Services
Senate Bill 6466, sponsored by Senator Cyrus Habib, creates a workgroup to remove obstacles for students with disabilities at institutions of higher education. Under federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, postsecondary institutions must ensure equal access to education to qualified students through academic adjustments and by providing support aids and services. To remove potential barriers that students with disabilities may encounter and to ensure seamless transitions for students transferring between postsecondary institutions, SB 6646 requires the workgroup to develop a plan for streamlining medical documentation requirements and procedures at higher education institutions and to develop best practices for helping students transmit accommodations information and documentation to their next postsecondary institution. The workgroup will present its plan to the Legislature by December 31, 2016.
Senate Bill 6601, sponsored by Senator David Frockt, establishes the Washington college savings program, a 529 savings plan to help cover college expenses. Since 1998, Washington State residents have had the option of saving for college through the Guaranteed Education Tuition program (GET), a 529 prepaid tuition plan that allows Washington residents to purchase units that can be applied to future postsecondary costs. The new 529 savings plan created by SB 6601 will serve as another tool for paying for college in addition to GET by allowing an account-holder to establish a savings account for a beneficiary to use for tuition and other postsecondary costs. The funds contributed to the account can be invested in stock or bond mutual funds or in money market funds, and the earnings will not be subject to federal tax as long as the money is used for college expenses.
General Government and Human Resources
House Bill 2356, sponsored by Representative Steve Kirby, relates to employer agreements to reimburse employee costs for the use of personal vehicles for business purposes. Under HB 2356, contracts in which a third party contracted by an employer agrees to reimburse its employees for mileage, maintenance, and repairs for personal vehicles used for business purposes are exempt from regulation as insurance, unless the agreement provides indemnification for repairs for a loss caused by theft, collision, fire, or other peril typically covered by comprehensive auto insurance.
House Bill 2557, sponsored by Representative Sam Hunt, addresses the return of unused shared employee leave. Since 1989, school district and state employees that have exhausted their accrued sick, annual, and/or military leave have been permitted to use additional paid leave that is donated by their colleagues. HB 2557 clarifies the process of returning unused paid leave from one employee to another by requiring that the agency head first receives a statement from the employee’s doctor that an illness or injury has been resolved or that other conditions have been met.
House Bill 2883, sponsored by Representative Tana Senn, eliminates the requirement that public postsecondary institutions and other agencies notify the Department of Enterprise Services when exercising independent purchasing authority.
Senate Bill 6171, sponsored by Senator Pam Roach, relates to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, which requires that the governing bodies of all public agencies be open to the public, including governing boards of institutions of higher education. SB 6171 increases the civil penalty for a public official who knowingly attends a meeting held in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act to $500 for the first violation, and $1,000 for each violation thereafter.
Senate Bill 6293, sponsored by Senator John Braun, permits employers to provide medical benefits to student volunteers and unpaid students.
Senate Bill 6349, sponsored by Senator Don Benton, clarifies the statutory authority for the State Treasurer and agencies including institutions of higher education to invest certain public funds.
Senate Bill 6455, sponsored by Senator Bruce Dammeier, addresses the shortage of professional educators in the state. In 2014, Washington voters approved Initiative 1351, a class size reduction measure requiring fewer students per classroom in public schools across the state. The Legislature temporarily suspended implementation of I-1351 due to lack of funding, but the shortage of certified teachers and substitute teachers will likely continue to be a key issue in the coming years. SB 6455 establishes a statewide initiative to increase the number of qualified individuals who apply for teaching positions, including enhancing an existing web-based depository for job applications accessible by school districts, increases funding and expanding eligibility for financial aid programs such as the Teacher Shortage Conditional Grant and the Student Teaching Residency Grant programs, and creates incentives for retired teachers to work as substitute teachers. SB 6455 also expands Alternative Route to Teacher Certification programs and requires certain out-of-state teachers be issued Washington professional certificates. Under the bill, institutions of higher education with approved Alternative Route programs must develop plans for partnering with local school districts no later than July 2018. SB 6455 also permits public four-year and two-year institutions of higher education to waive all or a portion of tuition and fees for public school K–12 classified staff when their coursework is relevant to their work assignment.
Looking Ahead to the 2017 Legislative Session
The Washington State Legislature holds a 105-day legislative session during odd numbered years, and 60-day sessions during even numbered years to coincide with the state’s biennial (two-year) budget cycle. The state’s two-year budget begins on July 1 of odd-numbered years and expires on June 30 of the following odd-numbered year.
During the 105-day 2017 session, the Legislature will create the 2017-19 state budget. In addition to the customary challenges associated with developing a balanced budget, the Legislature will also be tasked with developing a plan to fully fund basic education by 2018, as required in the 2012 McCleary state Supreme Court ruling.
Western will continue working with the Legislature during the upcoming session to build upon the university’s strengths and serve the needs of the state. The next legislative session is scheduled to convene January 9, 2017.