This content was published: October 15, 2020. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
October Government Relations Update
Photos and Story by Sarah Rose Evans
Every once and a while a person asks me, ”Why does a community college need a government advocate? Aren’t you government funded?” When I hear that question I think about our students. This week I met a woman who recently graduated from PCC, who was signed up for SNAP (food benefits) via a PCC staff member. She is a wonderful mother who wants to pursue a career change while raising her kids. That was only possible with financial support from the Oregon Opportunity Grant, which we lobby for monthly. She received scholarships from the PCC Foundation. This student benefited from the moderate tuition that we work hard to keep as low as possible, via biannual discussions with elected officials. Those food benefits were expanded to include community college students in the last few years through some amazing inter-agency work led by Kate Kinder, the Director of Career Pathways here at PCC. For all these reasons we need representation at the state capitol.
The top Government Relations priority for October continues to be budget advocacy in three areas: defend against cuts to our general fund allocation at the state level, budget defense for the 2021-2023 biennium in Oregon, and requests for the next stimulus package at the federal level, which will likely come from the next congress, or at least in the new year.
Our communication with legislators comes in many forms, including but not limited to letter writing, coalition online lobby visits, and regular communication with key staff members at each level of Government.
This past month, PCC’s Government Relations partnered with the Associated Students of PCC on civic engagement initiatives. Our student leaders brought on a new technology called Turbo Vote to help students and staff register to vote. In just two weeks we have had 387 people use the site. ASPCC reports that, “Our numbers increased daily, with big jumps when the student video was released to faculty/staff/students.” The ASPCC Legislative Affairs Team is excited about these new registrants and planning two trivia nights to engage students in election information sessions for WA and OR voters. Thank you to ASPCC for your leadership and commitment to civic engagement. As a reminder, Election Day is November 3rd and we can expect as many as 7-10 new legislators in the PCC District.
In the month of September, I met with 27 state elected representatives to discuss both budget and 2021 policy.
This month we finally received another allocation of student aid from the CARES Act. This funding came in the form of what’s called GEARS funding, which was set aside specifically for education entities. PCC is happy that in the end, our advocacy for more student aid was successful. The funding was distributed based on the financial need and racial inequities our students face. PCC received 22% of the statewide funding, the highest percentage of any institution. Although we are happy to receive those dollars, it is clear we have the highest percentage of students experiencing financial inequities and oppression. Our students need our advocacy more than ever.
The September 2020 forecast came out and brought better news for Oregon’s economy. The St. Helen’s Chronicle wrote, “If the September 2020 forecast proves accurate, not only is the General Fund in very good shape for the current biennium, but there will be additional revenues available to apply to 2021-23. Following the June 2020 revenue forecast, the Oregon Legislature met in a special session and enacted measures that filled the expected budget hole for 2019-21. As a result, the additional revenues in the September 2020 forecast are not needed immediately. Instead, an expected General Fund ending balance of $1.7 billion will be available to apply to the 2021-23 budget period.”
Even with additional state revenue projected for the 2021-23 biennium, the state will still be 3.5% below the projected current service level. National experts are describing economic trends as a K-shaped recession, where lower income people are impacted more severely than those in the higher income brackets. The income inequalities exacerbated by Covid-19 are resulting in dramatically different fall enrollment between Community Colleges and Universities. University enrollment in Oregon has remained relatively stable, whereas Community College enrollment is down between 6-27% across Oregon. At PCC, FTE enrollment is down 15.8%. Nationwide enrollment is down between 7-9% for Community Colleges.
Contracts with The Department of Corrections
This quarter we are also responding to a request from the Department of Corrections (DOC) to change our contract. We have come together with the other community colleges who serve DOC across the state to recommend that we meet their request to create one statewide contract. Kevin Bradly, Director of Corrections Education for PCC, has done a wonderful job with this new proposal. If approved, a single contract will be managed by the HECC, and funding would flow through a funding formula. The formula takes into account outcomes as well as cost-based metrics. DOC would also like to make deeper budget cuts for their education programs, and we likely cannot meet all of their challenging demands. I predict we will see correction education as a legislative issue in 2021.
Pathways to Opportunity Legislation Proposal
Our budget advocacy covers both institutional resources as well as increased resources for students’ basic needs.
PCC is working with Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon to pass legislation that would fund and place a benefits navigator on each community college campus in Oregon. Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon has worked hard over the last 4 years to gather stories from students impacted by food insecurity. We hear the stories from our students and we know the data to back up those realities. Based at Temple University, the Hope Lab did a 2019 study just for Oregon’s colleges and found that 63% of our students’ basic needs are not being met. The proposed legislation would be a major victory for students with the greatest need.
Other 2021 Legislation
- In the effort to improve transferability between educational systems, the next phase for this work is common course numbering. This is a best practice the legislature wants to see. The bigger issues are still equitable learning outcomes. There is lots more work to come on this issue.
- The Chair of the House Education Committee, Representative Alonso-Leon, is continuing to gather input for discussion about our distribution model. There is growing interest among legislators to tie funding to equity and equitable outcomes. We are open to all ideas at this time.
- Data collection of about the lives of student parents is also on the horizon. The intent is that better data collection means a better way to serve students with children.
Lobbying for Another Federal Stimulus Package
If there is another federal stimulus package that includes state funding, that could help to stabilize the state, and in turn, the community college budget. Here is a reminder of our federal asks at this time.
American Association of Community Colleges Priorities:
- $46.6 billion in formula funding for community colleges/higher education
- $2 billion for a dedicated community college training program
Ways to get involved
If you are a student or community member, we have ways for you to be involved. You can start by signing-up to be a PCC Ambassador. If you are a PCC employee, this type of engagement would be entirely voluntary. This team receives specialized advocacy training, and we dive deeper into the issues facing community colleges. We contact decision makers who can make a difference.
Government Relations Specialist
Sarah Rose Evans
GR and PR Project Manager
Thank you. Onward Together.