On Tuesday, Jan. 26, students from Bellevue College’s Office of Student Legislative Affairs joined an organized rally and lobby at Olympia with 34 of Washington’s community and technical colleges to fight for student issues that can improve education.
The students that attended were Vanessa Ross, Paul Bell, Mei-Ching Wu, Samara Hoolahan, Katherine Eng, Joshua Shepherd, Jorge Torres, Marian Enriquez, Gigi Huang, Joao Maria Tapel, Chuseng Yang, Xuanxuan Li, Ruth Thomas, Yazmeen Paredes, Xuanchen Liu and OSLA State Intern Abner Pagunuran. Accompanying these students were Student Programs Coordinators Brandon Lueken and Jenny Morgan.
During these annual rallies, BC sends a few of their students in OSLA who have been preparing months beforehand to speak with Washington senators about student needs across campuses. These preparations included understanding proposed bills, tallying 650 student surveys and holding workshops where students learn to have a structured conversation with senators and sway their decisions on bills that could increase the universality of higher education. “We believe that education should be a basic right for everyone,” said Yang, and OSLA’s legislative agenda for this year reflects that purpose.
For example, this year’s state agenda which was prepared since fall includes textbook affordability, college affordability, EBT on college campuses, correctional education, academic advising for all, disability access and equity, childcare funding, affordable housing and transportation. Each of these points focuses on widening educational opportunities for all demographics of students. Since this year’s rally and lobby was smaller, it allowed OSLA to better prepare their agenda and learn the specifics of each bill. “Legislators do better when we have a specific ask. We’ve built some more concrete issues,” said Lueken.
One bill that OSLA is fighting for is known as the Washington Promise. Similar to the Oregon Promise, the Washington Promise, if passed, will grant free education to high school graduates or GED recipients who are entering their first year of community college. “It would make an immediate impact for college students, not just in Washington State but all around the nation,” said Yang. The proposal for free community college has been gaining traction around the U.S. After President Obama’s promise in 2014 to make community college free, Oregon, Tennessee and Minnesota have created free community college programs. Following suit, 11 other states have introduced similar bills.
South Seattle College in Washington offers a similar opportunity, called the 13th Year Promise Scholarship, which has been used as a model for legislators to compare the Washington Promise to. Students from Chief Sealth, Cleveland and Rainier Beach high school are eligible for one year of free tuition.
If the Washington Promise were to pass, it would not only benefit the students, but also Washington’s economy. “Businesses in Washington have reported 50,000 open skilled positions annually. That is about $2-2.5 billion in annual middle class wages currently lost to families in our communities,” explained Senator Pramila Jayapal. “We can’t afford not to pass this.”
Currently, one problem with the Washington Promise is funding. According to Kiro 7, lawmakers estimated that the bill would cost from $100 to $125 million. There has not been a proposal yet for how this funding would be sourced. “What we need to do is talk about how important this is, and then find the money for it,” explained Jayapal, who was able to lower tuition last year in the same manner.
Yang was one of the many OSLA students who spoke about this bill at Olympia. “I took initiative to go on this rally because I felt strongly that it would really help benefit not just myself, but many students that are in similar situations like me who come from many different backgrounds and many different situations where they are unable to attend college because they are unable to afford college or have to take care of their family,” shared Yang. “Any opinion matters when it comes to college affordability.”
The race to pass these bills, however, is not over. Pagunuran will act as the “eyes and ears,” according to Lueken, at Olympia. Pagunuran will request members of OSLA to come and speak about certain bills when more lobbying is required. “We’ll take cues from Abner down in Olympia,” said Lueken.