By League of Education Voters Policy Team

The 2019 legislative session came to a fast and furious close on April 28, with rumors swirling about a special session right until the very end. There were a record number of bills introduced, and almost 500 passed by sine die.

League of Education Voters prioritized five areas this session: sufficient and effective special education funding, supportive and safe schools, fair local K-12 funding, high-quality early childhood education, and access to postsecondary opportunities. Ultimately, progress was made in all of our priority areas, some more than others, and we are grateful for all of the robust debate and work of the legislature over the past four months. We prioritize working in partnership with community-based organizations and enjoyed strategizing with partners to ensure that student and family voices and experiences were represented in Olympia.

Sufficient and Effective Special Education Funding

The 2019 legislative session saw the most conversation on special education of any session in recent memory. Legislators exhibited a commitment to addressing the shortfalls in funding and learning about the necessary systems and programming changes to improve outcomes for students receiving special education services. There were a number of proposals and promising conversations about investments in professional development, family advocates, and demonstration sites to implement best practices. While these policy proposals did not make it into any final legislation, the groundwork has been laid for future efforts to create more inclusive schools to better meet the needs of every student. The legislature also made a one-time investment of $25 million in professional development for educators on inclusive practices.

The legislature increased special education funding through two main mechanisms: the funding formula multiplier and the state safety net program. An additional $77 million will go to schools for students receiving special education services as a result of an increase in the special education multiplier. While this does not fill the large funding gaps experienced by many districts, it will provide some relief. Senate Bill 5091 also creates a two-tiered multiplier system beginning in 2020-2021 that differentiates funding based on the amount of time students spend in the general education setting. While the tier differences are minimal at this point, this is the type of approach — tying funding to student needs and services — that we’d like to see more of in the future, with meaningful tiers and additional differentiation. The legislature also increased the state safety net funding for districts and made the program more accessible by lowering the eligibility threshold.

Unfortunately, the legislature maintained the 13.5% cap on enrollment that the state will fund for services, meaning that even with the additional investments, there are almost 14,000 students that districts will serve without state funds, despite it being part of their basic education. Hopefully, this session was just the start of the conversation regarding the 13.5% cap and it will continue to be debated in future legislative sessions. 155,000 special education students in Washington deserve and need their basic education, and Washington’s outcomes for students who receive special education services lag behind other states. We look forward to continuing the work in this area with the Investing in Student Potential coalition.

Supportive and Safe Schools

School safety was another high priority for the legislature this session, and progress was made in broadening the definition of school safety — from physical safety to social, emotional, behavioral, and academic safety. House Bill 1216 provides funding for regional and state school safety centers and a school safety and student well-being workgroup. These are important first steps to building system capacity to create supportive and safe schools, and some of the regional school safety conversations will likely include access to mental health services — so while there were not investments in additional support staff and services directly in schools, there is the potential for more access through regional programs. Educators will also receive more professional development in social emotional learning, adverse childhood experiences, trauma-informed practices, and mental health literacy, among other school climate related topics, as required topics for one of their state-funded professional development days (Senate Bill 5903).

The creation of a workgroup to develop a statewide multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework did not pass in the final version of SB 5903, but we are hopeful that this work can be pursued in the future and may be incorporated into the student well-being work of the group formed in HB 1216.

Finally, Senate Bill 5082 will require the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to adopt social emotional learning benchmarks and the training of teachers, principals, and paraeducators in social emotional learning, meaning more students will have access to these foundational skills in their learning environment. The social emotional learning task force is also continued as a formal committee to develop a framework, best practices, and identify professional learning opportunities, among other responsibilities.

Fair Local K-12 Funding

Proposals for addressing the challenges in our local levy system were introduced all the way into the 11th hour. The final legislation, Senate Bill 5313, does allow some districts to raise additional levy dollars, but still results in unequal access to enrichment money through levies and local effort assistance (LEA). It also places the burden for raising additional revenue on local taxpayers and will result in taxpayers in lower property value districts paying higher tax rates for less revenue than higher property value districts.

Districts will now be able to raise $2.50/$1,000 assessed value, or $2,500 per student, whichever results in a lower tax rate. So districts that were already at the $2,500 per pupil cap will not be able to raise additional revenue. Districts that were not already at $2,500 per pupil will be able to levy a higher tax rate, up to $2.50/$1,000 (this is a change from the previous levy cap of $1.50/$1000). Seattle Public Schools will be allowed to raise up to $3,000 per pupil. The legislature has also increased the investment in local effort assistance (LEA) to qualifying districts by up to $50 per pupil. For the 2019-20 school year, the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts in Clark County will get additional LEA funding of $246 per student and $286 per student, respectively.

The changes to the levy and LEA systems will relieve some pressure on district budgets, but ultimately continue inequities based on district property wealth. We will continue to push in future sessions for a levy and LEA system that provides fair access to enrichment funds and is targeted based on community and student need, not wealth.

High-Quality Early Childhood Education

The legislature made several important investments in early childhood education, adding over 1,100 slots for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). These slots are all for full day and extended day programming. The state also increased the reimbursement rate for ECEAP providers (6% increase beginning in July 2019) and childcare providers that implement Early Achievers (a quality program). ECEAP eligibility was also expanded for kids experiencing risk factors but above the income eligibility threshold, and the state will begin planning for an earlier start to ECEAP services for low-income kids. The Capital Budget provided over $30 million in funding for early learning projects across the state. While we were hoping to see larger investments, this increase will help make these programs more sustainable for providers and maintain access for families. The legislature also invested an additional $7.6 million ($3.8M state funds and $3.8M federal funds) in home visiting to fund 420 additional slots in 2020 and 840 slots in 2021.

Although most advocates on education policy want higher investments in early childhood to make sure all our kids enter the K-12 system ready to learn, each of the investments championed by legislators this session serve as the crucial foundation for future educational success through and beyond K-12 and thriving communities. Regardless of income, all our Washington kids deserve loving, supportive, and stimulating care from birth to their first day of kindergarten. We are further on the journey to achieving that goal after the 2019 session, thanks to legislators and early childhood education advocates, and will continue the work in future sessions.

Access to Postsecondary Opportunities

In perhaps one of the biggest successes for kids this session, the legislature will fully fund the State Need Grant, now renamed the Washington College Grant, in the 2020-2021 school year — meaning that every eligible student will have access to the funding they need to access postsecondary opportunities.

Thank you to all of our supporters and partners for your tireless work this session. And thank you to the legislators for the long hours, difficult conversations, and investments in Washington’s students.


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