By Beth Richer, League of Education Voters Government Relations
Within any given legislative session there are victories, defeats, and measures left in a state of limbo. The 2014 session was no different. But amidst those victories, defeats, and states of limbo, there was an underlying theme for much of the education legislation related to the opportunity gap. Legislators, advocacy organizations, teachers, parents, students, and business leaders alike all said loud and clear: “We must take action to close the gaps and address our most underserved students.”
During the 2014 legislative session, legislators did just that through a number of successful bills, starting with the Dream Act. Working shoulder to shoulder with advocacy groups and organizations, at least six bills working to address aspects of the opportunity and achievement gaps, from early learning through higher education, will make their way to Governor Inslee’s desk.
These bills ensure:
- The availability of the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) for our earliest learners on welfare
- Honor the skills of biliterate students who speak and write a second language
- Address summer learning loss and explore ways to reduce its impact
- Outline a direction for further development for paraeducators and acknowledge the irreplaceable role they play in the classroom
- Allow all of Washington’s students to pursue higher education with fewer financial barriers rather than just dream about it
This is real work that makes real change.
There is no single method to close the opportunity and achievement gaps. These gaps are multifaceted and therefore require a multifaceted approach; we know this from years of work and research.
The bills passed this session are steps toward addressing some of the many aspects that both create the opportunity and achievement gaps and prevent them from closing.
Look at any of these bills individually and they might not seem like a significant change. But if you look at them together, you will see that the conversations that brought these bills forward have dictated a new direction in legislation. These bills prioritize serving students who have fallen through the cracks and meeting their needs within the system rather than outside of it.
The League of Education Voters had the honor of learning from and working with numerous organizations, coalitions, and leaders in the community to make the passage of these bills possible. This work is a commitment to our values and a commitment to a high-quality public education for all Washington students.
Below are the bills focusing on closing the opportunity and achievement gaps that passed during the 2014 legislative session.
|HB 2519||Ensures that children involved in child welfare are eligible and prioritized for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP)—the state's preschool program for low-income children.|
|SB 6074||In order to improve educational outcomes for homeless students by gathering more and better data and distributing best practices and other means to support these students.|
|SB 6129||Establishes a work group to design minimum employment standards for paraeducators; professional development (PD) supporting the standards; a paraeducator career ladder; an articulated pathway for teacher prep and certification; and teacher PD on how to maximize the use of paraeducators in the classroom.|
|SB 6163||Extended school year pilot program will lengthen the school year by 20 days for 3 years starting in 2015–16; eligible schools have a low-income enrollment of 75 percent or higher. Up to 10 schools will be selected. Pilot applicants must get staff buy-in; solicit input from the community; and get school board approval.|
|SB 6424||Establishes Washington state seal of biliteracy to recognize public high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking; reading; and writing in one or more world languages; in addition to English.|
|SB 6523||The Dream Act; also called the Real Hope Act. Extends State Need Grant eligibility to qualifying undocumented students who have graduated from a Washington high school; appropriates $5 million for the State Need Grant for 2014–15.|