ESSB 6141

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

As Amended by House, March 4, 2020

Title: An act relating to expanding access to higher education.

Brief Description: Expanding access to higher education.

Sponsors: Senate Committee on Higher Education & Workforce Development (originally sponsored by Senators Randall, Hasegawa, Keiser, Stanford, Frockt, Wilson, C. and Sheldon; by request of Lieutenant Governor).

Brief History:

Committee Activity: Higher Education & Workforce Development: 1/16/20, 2/04/20 [DPS-WM].

Ways & Means: 2/10/20, 2/11/20 [DPS (HEWD), w/oRec].

Floor Activity:

Passed Senate: 2/18/20, 47-1.Passed House: 3/04/20, 93-3.

Brief Summary of Engrossed First Substitute Bill

  • Requires the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) to develop a financial aid calculator to provide estimates of federal and state aid.

  • Directs WSAC, in collaboration with the public four-year and two-year higher education institutions, as well as independent colleges in Washington State, to develop clear and consistent definitions for financial aid award letters.

  • Allows districts to administer financial aid advising day with information sharing requirements contained in the High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) and requires that the HSBP include information about the Washington College Grant and other scholarship opportunities.


Majority Report: That Substitute Senate Bill No. 6141 be substituted therefor, and the substitute bill do pass and be referred to Committee on Ways & Means.

Signed by Senators Randall, Chair; Stanford, Vice Chair; Holy, Ranking Member; Brown and Liias.

Staff: Alicia Kinne-Clawson (786-7407)


Majority Report: Do pass.

Signed by Senators Rolfes, Chair; Frockt, Vice Chair, Operating, Capital Lead; Mullet, Capital Budget Cabinet; Brown, Assistant Ranking Member, Operating; Billig, Carlyle, Conway, Darneille, Dhingra, Hasegawa, Hunt, Keiser, Liias, Muzzall, Pedersen, Van De Wege, Wagoner and Warnick.

Minority Report: That it be referred without recommendation.

Signed by Senators Honeyford, Assistant Ranking Member, Capital; Becker, Rivers, Schoesler and Wilson, L..

Staff: Michele Alishahi (786-7433)

Background: Prior to each year of college, students may apply for financial aid by filling out the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA). Colleges use the data provided in the financial aid application to determine a student's eligibility for aid. A student's financial need, as determined by the college, is the difference between the amount it will cost the student to go to school—the Cost of Attendance—and the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC takes into consideration family income, assets, family size, and number of family members in college.

In 2019, the Legislature adopted changes to the HSBPs including a requirement that students receive specific information about federal and state financial aid programs that provide financial assistance for postsecondary education.

Summary of Engrossed First Substitute Bill: Financial Aid Calculator. WSAC must adopt an online calculator for all public four-year higher education institutions in Washington. The tool must:

Financial Aid Award Letters. WSAC, in collaboration the public four-year and two-year higher education institutions, as well as independent colleges in Washington state must develop clear and consistent definitions for financial aid award letters. By July 1, 2021, all public higher education institutions and all independent colleges in Washington State must adopt a standardized template for financial aid awards.

School District Requirements for Financial Aid Advising Day. Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, all districts with a high school must provide both a financial aid advising day and notification of financial aid opportunities at the beginning of the school year to parents and guardians of any student entering the twelfth grade. The notification must include:

The Washington State School Director's Association, with assistance from the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) and WSAC must develop a model policy and procedure for financial aid advising day.

Financial Aid Advising Day. Beginning with the 2020-21 school year and within existing resources, OSPI must coordinate a financial aid advising day or series of days for all districts with a high school. The financial aid advising day may coincide with HSBP information-sharing requirements. Financial aid advising day must take place between September 1st and December 1st of each year and include:

Students and educational staff may not be assessed on the basis of or penalized for failing to complete a financial aid application.

Includes a federal severability clause, which makes the bill inoperative to the extent that it is found to be in conflict with federal law or regulations.

Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Available.

Creates Committee/Commission/Task Force that includes Legislative members: No.

Effective Date: Ninety days after adjournment of session in which bill is passed.

Staff Summary of Public Testimony on Proposed Substitute (Higher Education & Workforce Development): The committee recommended a different version of the bill than what was heard. PRO: These policies are ideas that can remove non-financial barriers to higher education and create equitable privilege. They have all been tested in other states. This bill creates an online calculator which helps students estimate their actual cost of education. This bill also helps students and families access and complete the FAFSA. As a student who recently went through this process I was afraid to file the FAFSA because because of my families history of negative experiences with federal agencies. This legislation is one evidence based step in supporting students to file for aid. This builds on the great investment in the Washington College Grant and other changes made last year to the high school and beyond plan. We do not have adequate staffing at our schools to provide the support necessary to fully implement this bill. This bill aims to streamline the tools for applying for aid as well as the follow-up students receive after applying. We see this as anti-poverty work in helping students access postsecondary education. Partners are in agreement that the financial aid calculator is helpful. We want to work with partners on how we get this information to students without putting too many burdens on schools.

OTHER: With last sessions big expansion in aid we want to ensure that students know how to access that aid. WSAC is doing some work to increase FAFSA filing through text messages and train the trainer work so that local school districts have support. We think the aid calculator is important to give clarity to students and families about what aid they are eligible for. The community and technical colleges have been suing a standardized award template for several years. Many schools are already doing this work. This does not come with additional staff and we are cautious about what these new requirements will mean to schools.

Persons Testifying (Higher Education & Workforce Development): PRO: Senator Emily Randall, Prime Sponsor; Simone Boe, Washington Education Association; Cyrus Habib, Office of the Lieutenant Governor; Mary Chikwinya, Director of Higher Education, Office of the Lieutenant Governor; Spencer Lively, Director of Legislative Affairs, Associated Students of the University of Washington; Wendy Holcomb, Foundation for Tacoma Students; Lori Parrish, Metropolitan Development Council; Katherine Mahoney, Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction; Juliette Schindler Kelly, College Success Foundation. OTHER: Heather Hudson, Washington Student Achievement Council; Scott Copeland, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges; Roz Thompson, Association of Washington School Principals.

Persons Signed In To Testify But Not Testifying (Higher Education & Workforce Development): No one.

Staff Summary of Public Testimony on First Substitute (Ways & Means): PRO: This bill will help first generation students like myself, who do not have parents who can help them, with applying for financial aid.

Persons Testifying (Ways & Means): PRO: Spencer Lively, Associated Students of the University of Washington.

Persons Signed In To Testify But Not Testifying (Ways & Means): No one.

EFFECT OF HOUSE AMENDMENT(S): Requires the inclusion of information on the College Board's CSS Profile as part of the financial aid advising day.