House bill would pay colleges for results

Rep. Probst’s funding plan picking up steam

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A bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, which would link funding for state universities to the results they produce, is picking up steam in Olympia.

The bill — HB 2265 — passed in the House by a wide margin last week and is now in the Senate’s higher education committee. Co-sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, the legislation enjoys bipartisan support.

If the current version makes it out of the Senate intact, the bill would lead to outcome-based payments to the state’s four-year public universities. The Office of Financial Management by Dec. 1 would have to submit a report on how best to measure and reward the universities’ performance.

In the House version of the bill, universities are given points for increasing the number of graduates overall, for increasing the number of graduates in high-demand fields and for graduating more disadvantaged and minority students. The points are tallied to give each university a uniform score.

State officials would then transfer a yet-to-be-determined percentage of the general fund and half of the Education Legacy Trust Account into a special fund. Universities would get paid out of that fund according to the score they received, in addition to a guaranteed base payment. The ratio between base and reward is to be set by the OFM.

In addition, the Education Data Center in conjunction with the Employment Security Department and higher-ed officials, must compile data on how many students from each university find a job or enroll in graduate school within one year of getting their bachelor’s degrees.

The bill does not specify if universities are rewarded for producing graduates that find a job. It only requires that the institutions realign course offerings to graduate more students in areas that are short on qualified workers.

The bill that passed out of the House with 60-38 votes is a slimmed-down version of Probst’s original proposal. A previous version included commitments to restore higher-ed funding to 2009 levels when the economy picks up. It also included K-12 schools and community colleges in the performance-pay system.

Probst had said that the recent State Supreme Court decision regarding funding for K-12 made that part of his proposal moot. And community colleges, without legislative direction, have put in place a system to reward the best performers among them.

Probst correctly predicted that his push to restore higher-ed funding to a set level would encounter stiff resistance in the House Ways and Means committee.

His bill set the share of higher-ed funding that would be dependent on performance at 25 percent. The version that passed the House leaves it up to OFM to find a ratio.

But however diluted, the current bill still would connect funding to how many students graduate, not just how many enroll, Probst said.

Few states around the country have such connections between payments and graduation rates.

“After a week of last-minute negotiations, the Washington Works Act has passed the House in the form I was hoping for,” Probst said. “I was so happy to see that Reps. (Ann) Rivers, (Jim) Moeller, (Ed) Orcutt and (Sharon) Wylie also voted for it.”

The higher-ed bill is part of a package of six bills related to economic growth Probst is pushing.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_schools.