When we began the 2020 legislative session almost 70 days ago, I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that it would end with Governor Inslee on TVW closing schools across Washington. As I write this summary, lawmakers, educators, and advocates are focused on helping students access meals and strategizing how to continue instruction from afar. We don’t know at this point what the state of education will look like moving forward, or how a decline in revenue will affect the supplemental budget.
Although it feels as though the circumstances are changing every day, we at Stand remain committed to our values of supporting students and families. We are still focused on our goal that all Washington students graduate high school with a rigorous diploma that prepares them for the next step in college or career. To achieve that, we focused this session on three primary objectives: expanding access to school counselors, removing financial barriers to dual credit courses, and ensuring support for students with disabilities.
If you’d like to listen to our 2020 Legislative Debrief Conference Call, you can listen to the March 19th recording here.
Stand’s Legislative Priorities
Our top priority this session was Senator Mullet’s SB 6480, which would have established a comprehensive school counseling program in all districts across the state. The bill also defined in statute how a counselor may use their time by requiring that they spend 80% of their day working with and on behalf of students. We know that school counselors get pulled into a variety of tasks unrelated to counselling, so this bill aimed to put guardrails around what work they may be assigned to in their buildings.
Stand for Children testified in support of SB 6480 along with the Washington School Counselors’ Association, the Washington Education Association, the Black Education Strategy Roundtable, and Graduate Tacoma. In total, seventeen organizations signed in to support SB 6480 in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee, and 200 community members took action to contact their legislators about the bill. Despite receiving overwhelming, bipartisan support with a 43-3 vote in the Senate, the members of the House Education committee did not schedule it for a hearing.
Although we were disappointed that SB 6480 did not move forward, the supplemental budget did include a silver lining: over $31 million to fund additional counseling services (the equivalent of an additional half-time counselor at a typical school) for all high poverty elementary schools in the state. These additional school counselors will expand services at schools that make up roughly 45% of Washington’s K-6 enrollment. The funding will also help bring elementary schools closer to the recommended ratio of one counselor for every 250 children, up from their current funded ratio of 1:812.
Building off of our success in passing a statewide Academic Acceleration law during the 2019 session, we supported Senator Mullet’s SB 6505, a request bill from OSPI that would have phased in an ambitious plan to make dual credit courses free for all students and their families. The proposal began with the intent of having the state or districts cover the costs of all students; however, by the time it reached the Senate floor, it took a more targeted approach to serve students who qualify for the Washington College Grant. Unfortunately, it did not receive a floor vote.
Although SB 6505 did not pass out of the Senate, we are celebrating a few wins for dual credit this session. 2SHB 2864, sponsored by Representative Paul, will require OSPI and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) to establish a pilot program for Running Start in the summer on three campuses. Senator Holy’s SB 6374 will expand the allowable expenses for the Dual Enrollment Scholarship pilot program to include apprenticeship materials.
We were also encouraged to see the final budget include a small investment for a dual credit workgroup to be convened by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC). The workgroup will provide recommendations to the legislature on closing equity gaps and addressing barriers pertaining to dual credit costs. The final report will also include additional data on Running Start enrollment and analysis of how dual credit affects high school graduation and postsecondary completion.
We also advocated on behalf of SB 6117 to increase funding for students with disabilities. Specifically, this bill would have increased the special education multiplier, adding additional dollars for students who spend at least 80% of their time in a general education setting. It also would have expanded eligibility for safety net funding, and required every school district to convene a special education advisory committee. SB 6117 passed unanimously off of the Senate floor, but did not receive a hearing in House Appropriations. While we were disappointed that this bill did not move forward, we are grateful that the final draft of the supplemental operating budget includes an additional $1.9 million of safety net funding.
The Supplemental Budget
As I write this summary, many around Washington are wondering about the economic impacts of COVID-19, including a likely decrease in state tax revenue. While we don’t have any answers yet, we will continue to keep a close eye on future changes to the budget that lawmakers passed and their impacts on public education.
This year’s supplemental operating budget that was sent to the Governor’s desk on March 12th made several investments in education, particularly for local effort assistance and early learning. One hundred eighteen school districts will each receive their share of $45.8 million in additional local effort assistance due to higher than expected property values in those districts. On a smaller scale, the budget includes $4 million for grants to small school districts, tribal compact schools, and public charter schools who are less or not at all reliant on local levy dollars.
For early learning, the legislature allocated $9.1 million to raise ECEAP rates by 5% and provide additional funding for providers serving children with special needs. The budget also includes significant funding to expand Working Connections Child Care, including over $650,000 to provide child care for parenting teens enrolled in high school.
As mentioned previously, the budget did contain provisions related to our priorities. Most notably, it allocated $31.8 million to add additional school counselors in high poverty elementary schools. It also set aside $150,000 for WASC’s dual credit workgroup, which will likely prove cost-effective given the scope of work. Finally, an additional $1.9 million set aside in the budget will increase districts ability to access safety net funding to serve students with disabilities.
Other Noteworthy Legislation
A few bills passed that promise to continue expanding access to higher education in Washington, including SB 6492 and SSB 6141. SB 6492, sponsored by Senator Pedersen, tweaked the tax system set up in 2019 to ensure adequate funding for the Washington College Grant. It dashed through the legislature and received the Governor’s signature in early February. SSB 6141, a request bill from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and sponsored by Senator Randall, directs WSAC to create a financial aid calculator to help students estimate their potential Pell Grant and Washington College Grant amount; it also requires OSPI to to coordinate a financial aid advising day for all districts with a high school to ensure students and families receive information about the WAFSA or FAFSA and potential aid opportunities.
HB 2711 will create a workgroup to address the needs of students in foster care, experiencing homelessness, or both. The workgroup will make recommendations for how to achieve parity in educational outcomes with the general student population, with a particular focus on students of color and students with disabilities who are in foster care. The workgroup will analyze data disaggregated by race and ethnicity to understand outcomes related to kindergarten readiness, attendance, ninth grade on track, and postsecondary enrollment/persistence.
As session continued, much of the focus within education policy turned to SB 5395, a bill that would implement comprehensive sexual health education for all public school students by 2023. The debate grew more contentious as the legislature approached Sine Die; lawmakers proposed a total of 231 amendments from the floors of both chambers. The bill passed after capturing much of the attention during the last few weeks of session.
Looking ahead to next year
First, we saw quite a few bills that had trouble gaining traction in a short session but may help set the stage for next year. Senator Wellman’s SB 6615 set out a plan to phase in additional support staff, including school counselors, nurses, social workers, librarians, and paraeducators. It also sought to redefine the prototypical school model and use a multi-year average to determine what schools qualify for high poverty funding.
We’re always looking ahead to what’s in store for next session, but admittedly, it’s difficult to think about next January when all students in Washington are home for the foreseeable future. We’ll undoubtedly have new challenges to work through in the next session in response to what’s happening today, but we’re honored to continue standing with you. Thank you for your hard work and advocacy this session on behalf of Washington’s students!
Policy & Government Affairs Manager
Stand for Children Washington