A group of students told lawmakers in Olympia that programs at Shoreline Community College helped turn their lives around. Now, they’re doing their part to save the program they say helped save them.
“I had weapons held to my head (in high school),” Zane Faamuli said in separate testimonies before the House Education Committee on Feb. 6 and the Senate Early Learning and
K-12 Education Committee
SCC student Jaime Bennett (above, left) testifies Monday, Feb. 9, 2009 in support of SB 5618 before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, while fellow student Amber Bonifas looks on. In the background is Zane Faamuli.
on Feb. 9. Continuing to go to high school wasn’t an option, Faamuli said.
Faamuli, the other students and SCC administrators were there to support HB 1418 and SB 5618, bills that would establish a statewide re-engagement system for high school dropouts from age 16-21. SCC has two programs, Learning Center North (LCN) and Career Education Options (CEO) that provide re-engagement services. Through the programs, students can get a GED if needed as well as basic education and employable skills training and counseling. Students receive one-on-one case management as part of the programs.
The bills are identical and would clean up what has become a bureaucratic mess, said LCN Director Pat Johnson. Johnson was chair of the legislatively established Building Bridges Dropout Task Force. Johnson told lawmakers that the bills are a result of the task force’s work.
“This is what you asked to do,” Johnson said.
Also testifying in favor of the bills was John Aultman, from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the agency that oversees K-12 education in the state. “We support this bill and these re-engagement programs,” Aultman told the Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. McAuliffe signed on as a co-sponsor. The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Covington, whose district includes Green River Community College.
The originating House bill is sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park. Kagi, a member of the Shoreline Community College Foundation Board, became concerned this past summer when the Shoreline School District decided to no longer contract with the LCN and CEO programs.
State law requires public funding for students through the high-school level and age 21. However, a statewide average of about 25 percent of those students dropout before graduation. Some students go to alternative high schools, but many come to re-engagement programs by choice or necessity. One student said she wanted to back to her high school, only to find, “the school had a restraining order against me. The only classes they’d let me take were two self-directed online courses.”
CEO director Mariko Kakiuchi said the SCC-based programs served 678 students in 2007-08. Funding for those students now passes through school districts, but because current regulations are either murky or non-existent, more and more districts are reluctant to take the risk.
In SCC’s case, the Monroe School District agreed to act as the pass-through district for funding, but school-board members there made it clear it was for one year and one year only. If no solution is found, SCC programs may have to close, SCC President Lee Lambert told lawmakers.
Kagi’s bill, mirrored in the Senate version, would make the state’s educational service districts the pass-through agencies. The bills still let schools districts decide to either provide such services themselves or contract for service with an outside agency such as a community college.
“It sounds complicated,” Johnson told lawmakers. “But what this bill really does is take this out of the shadows and provide accountability.”
Cutting to the heart of the matter and gaining the lawmakers’ attention were the students and their stories. Besides Faamuli, other students testifying were: David Mickelbury, Taaisha Finklea, Jaime Bennett, Michelle Pinner and Kellie Baird. All were open about the circumstances that led to dropping out, their own choices and factors outside their control. Several also said that without the programs, they’d likely be in jail or dead.
During hearing before the House Education Committee, chairman Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, told the students, “Thank you, that was the best testimony this committee has heard.”