The Office of Student Legislative Affairs focuses on involving the Bellevue College campus with legislation in Olympia and holds monthly public hearings and annual surveys in order to receive input from students about their issues and concerns relating to state laws and campus life.
Student employee Zaya Tsengel explained: “Every student has a purpose to stay here. We have to study and there’re many issues in students’ lives like tuition and textbooks. We can be their voice to get these issues to the state.”
Policy Coordinator Tai Yang said “most students have actually said textbooks are a huge issue this year.” The OSLA is working to pass a bill “which would impose a $100 cap on any textbooks for any class.”
While textbook costs are continually rising, another issue faced by the OSLA is the nutrition of students. Students who receive financial aid through Electronic Transfer Benefit cards are unable to redeem their benefits anywhere at Bellevue College, requiring that they travel off-campus to eat. This is due to the legal requirements around businesses permitted to process EBT cards, BC is disqualified primarily because of the proximity of seating to all points of sale.
Tuition costs are a concern for the majority of students. Because it is a budget year, the state legislature is currently reallocating and appropriating funds. This poses a threat to higher education as the public funding for all community colleges in the state come out of the discretionary budget. Other programs which draw funding from the same source include public transportation, nursing homes, parks and recreation, as well as some aspects of the prison system. The recently passed initiative 1351 will receive over 4 billion dollars by 2019.
“We’re trying to lessen our share of the burden essentially and trying to remind the legislature that we are in fact America’s future and that they should fund higher education,” Yang said. The OSLA, alongside the Washington Community and Technical Colleges Student Association, are working on a bill to expand K-12 to K-14, including the first two years of colleges as part of the standard public education.
“There’s a lot of support behind that now because of what Obama is trying to do which is funding community colleges at least 75 percent of the way,” said Yang.
Transportation, student support and faculty support were also concerns brought forward by students. The OSLA is trying to increase student support by integrating Running Start students into different programs and campus activities.
The OSLA coordinated a rally on Feb. 5 with WACTCSA in Olympia. About 200 students from 34 community and technical colleges were expected to gather at the capitol, holding signs in support of their legislative agenda.
“Our ultimate goal,” Yang said, “is to, one, make sure people have a fun time, two, that they are more aware of what’s going on and how they can actually take an active part in changing their future, and third, for them to meet with legislators and feel that their voice is being heard.”
Tsengel mentioned that for the students unable to make it to Olympia, note cards with their input will be delivered to the state liaison, Paul Bell. Bell will be meeting with legislators and speaking in front of committees about different bills throughout the legislative session.
The OSLA has a booster club called Bulldogs Vote that meets every other Friday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. “[To those] interested in politics or just being involved on campus,” said Tsengel, come to the club. We actively work with OSLA on tabling and events.”