By Daniel Zavala, League of Education Voters Director of Policy and Government Relations
Remember that time last year when I went over everything “You Need to Know about the McCleary School Funding Agreement?” Well, it’s time for a refresh. The 2018 legislative session was all about McCleary 2.0, or what we can call, what to do when the Supreme Court says you’re still not quite there yet.
Many of us were expecting a quiet session where little would be addressed in education due to budget constraints. Two major events occurred: The Supreme Court’s November Order saying the legislature was still out of compliance and a Revenue Forecast that far exceeded most predictions regarding unanticipated future revenue collections. The end result: Another year of legislators in the 11th hour hanging ornaments (i.e. piecemeal policies) on an omnibus policy tree (i.e. Senate Bill 6362) that likely created more questions than answers. My prediction: we will be back next year sweeping up the broken ornaments. And while we may fixate on the 11th hour scrambling, it is important to reflect on the successes we saw this year in expanded eligibility with early learning and college financial aid, increased funds for special education and the State Need Grant, and raised awareness of social emotional and mental health needs.
So what happened this year? League of Education Voters worked on a broad range of issues, championing our legislative priorities and supporting the bills and work of partners, stakeholders, and legislators. The following is a summary of what was accomplished together–let’s start with Early Learning and Higher Education, and then we can make our way into the (insert colloquial phrase about chaos here) that is McCleary 2.0.
- No additional Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) slots were funded, but eligibility is expanded to include families over the income threshold of 110% above the federal poverty level, with priority for children experiencing homelessness or a developmental delay. See Senate Bill 6419 for more details.
- $18.5 million additional toward the State Need Grant (covering 25% of the unmet need, i.e. 4,600 students).
- College Bound Scholarship eligibility is expanded to include Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients and other select immigration statuses. See House Bill 1488 for more details.
In K-12, we see improvements in some critical areas. These include changes to the High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP), improving information around college and career pathways, see House Bill 2686 for more details. Regarding Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO), the Legislature provides $750,000 to the ELO Quality Initiative for program continuation.
While McCleary focused on some elements of basic education like Staff Compensation and K-3 Class Size Reduction, League of Education Voters, along with many education advocates, is pushing for the state to address the unmet needs in other critical areas of basic education and the overall public education system, such as Special Education, Student Supports, and School Climate.
- In Special Education, the Legislature increases funding for special education by raising the multiplier (i.e. the formula used to determine how much per student is driven out to districts).
- Around Students Supports, the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) is tasked with developing a trauma-informed strategy for early learning providers.
- Additionally, House Bill 1377 promotes mental health collaboration time between counselors, social workers, and psychologists at schools.
- House Bill 2748 would have addressed needed changes in the Learning Assistance Program (LAP), such as raising the cap on use of LAP funds for social emotional and mental health services. It failed to pass.
And of course, we cannot forget McCleary 2.0, i.e. Senate Bill 6362, and the issues of compensation, local levies, and categorical programs.
- Regionalization: The state creates an edge adjustment to address adjoining districts with higher state allocations, but this only applies to Western Washington.
- LAP High-Poverty Concentration: The Legislature instituted a three-year rolling average to address concerns about instability in funding from year to year.
- Staff Mix: The Legislature enacted an Experience Mix Factor to provide additional funding to districts with a workforce with above-state average years of experience and teachers with master’s degrees.
- Local Levies: No action was taken, although many proposals made, to address the two-tiered disparity between high property value and low property value districts.
So why do I feel like all of the above will end with us coming back next year to pick up the broken pieces, especially when many of the accomplishments this year can be applauded? Because we have not given a holistic look at what actually needs to be done to create a high functioning public education system for our most vulnerable students.
43% of our students come from low-income households. 14% have a specific learning disability or developmental delay. 12% have limited English-language proficiency. 45% are students of color. Our progress to date for these historically and systemically underserved populations has been too slow. The supports we provide as a state are rarely targeted to the schools these students attend. Districts often lack the resources to provide development and training for educators to meet the needs of these students.
Take a minute to applaud our legislators for their tireless, and often thankless, efforts. Much was accomplished. Yet, keep steady on the pressure to maintain focus on the critical issues of education that will ensure every student receives a quality education. Voice your experience and observation about what needs are still unmet in your community school. McCleary may finally be past us, but the movement toward equitable and student-centered education solutions is full steam ahead.
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