Rural jobs program bill advances

The Senate Ways and Means Committee has sent to the Rules Committee HB 2177, which would create the rural county high employer demand jobs program. The initiative would use public-private matched funds to help students earn degrees or certificates in high-demand fields.

During the proposal’s public hearing, State Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40) told colleagues the measure was expanded to include rural school districts in addition to rural counties. This change was brought forward based on stakeholder and lawmaker concern that certain counties would be excluded based on the how the legislation defines “rural.”

The program would be administered by the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) Board. To be eligible, a student must be a state resident of an eligible county, be enrolled in a Community and Technical College (CTC) within a rural county and study in a high-demand field recognized by the WSOS program.

Jason Callahan, Director of Public Relations for the Washington Forest Protection Association, testified that the bill would indeed benefit rural communities.

“It allows the local community colleges to look into the communities to see what the job demand needs are and then allow the private employers in those counties to match that need and create a program where the local communities are being supported….”

Callahan said that while there aren’t any private matches lined up to start investing, a handful of forest product companies indicated they would participate. He added the bill will also benefit hospitals, electricians, plumbers and other sectors which “will drive employment to those needs and opportunities in those areas.”

The measure was sent out of committee on Feb. 26.

 

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