By League of Education Voters Policy Team
The end of the 2020 legislative session saw the legislature and other state leaders working rapidly and tirelessly to address the spreading COVID-19 pandemic in our schools and communities. We are incredibly grateful for the efforts of our public officials and public servants in these uncertain times to ensure that our communities are safe, and our most impacted students and families get the support they need.
The 2020 legislative session was a short, 60-day session, where legislators worked on a supplemental budget to the 2019-2021 biennial budget passed in 2019. While there were many robust debates and promising proposals regarding education investments leading up to the end of session, the need to prioritize investing in the response to COVID-19 and prepare for potential impacts on our economy, families, and healthcare system took precedent in the final budget. You can read our summary of the final 2020 supplemental budget here.
During the 2020 session, League of Education Voters pursued policy priorities in four issue areas: early childhood education, student supports, special education, and local K-12 funding.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
The 2020 session brought both small gains and visionary groundwork to Washington’s early learning landscape. Both the House and Senate produced omnibus early learning bills that staked out monumental and essential changes to childcare across the state, focusing especially on expanding the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), accessibility in childcare, and supporting struggling providers. Although neither bill made it to the Governor’s desk this session, with each one requiring investments in the billions from the state, they helped forge pathways for other legislation and investments for this session and sessions to come.
Most notably, the House and Senate agreed to dedicate nearly $39 million to the ECEAP and WCCC programs to increase subsidy rates for childcare. Other gains this session demonstrated lawmakers’ commitment to supporting some of Washington’s particularly vulnerable populations in childcare and increasing urgency around these issues. After much debate, the legislature passed House Bill 2456 and its accompanying almost $2 million investment, which will provide a 12-month grace period of childcare subsidies through WCCC for families experiencing homelessness. In addition to adding $6 million in funding to help smooth the WCCC copay cliff (when copays suddenly rise due to an increase in family income), lawmakers also agreed to waive one year of childcare copayments for teen parents pursuing a high school degree. The legislature also established a complex needs fund with $2.2 million to support ECEAP providers serving children with special needs, and we also saw them make investments in more dual-language programs, supports to rural communities, scholarships for young professionals seeking licensure or Early Achievers milestones, and community-based pathways for providers with the passing of House Bill 2556.
The legislature debated a number of different approaches to better support students in K-12 schools this session. There were three bills that addressed bolstering district expertise and capacity in providing supports, including through the creation of an implementation framework for multi-tiered systems of support (House Bill 2690); increasing access to professional development in cultural competency (Senate Bill 5908); and the creation of a model policy on creating positive school climates (House Bill 2816). HB 2816 made it through the session, and will require the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) to create a model policy that districts may use to create positive school climates, though adoption by school districts remains optional. Changes to the allowable use of Learning Assistance Program funds were also proposed in both chambers (House Bill 1182, Senate Bill 6132), and represented very different approaches, on which, ultimately, the two chambers could not concur.
League of Education Voters also supported House Bill 2719, which would have allowed districts to retain their K-3 class size reduction funds for use on student supports in grades K-3 if they were unable to reduce actual class sizes. HB 2719, unfortunately, did not receive a hearing.
In the budget, the legislature made a significant investment in student supports by funding additional counselors for high-poverty elementary schools and investing in the development of a family engagement framework. The legislature also provided the Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO), which provides training and outreach to support education equity and provides collaborative conflict resolution with the K-12 education system, with an additional $100,000 in funding to expand their efforts. OEO will also be provided with $50,000 to develop a plan to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion among families with school-aged children.
At the beginning of the session, there seemed to be significant momentum in continuing to address the shortfalls and challenges in special education funding and services in our K-12 schools. Senate Bill 6117 would have increased funding for special education services by increasing the multiplier in the state funding formula. Throughout the session, League of Education Voters and partners in the Investing in Student Potential coalition advocated to include the lifting of the 13.5% cap on funded enrollment, as well as the multiplier increase in this and other special education proposals. SB 6117 was amended in a number of ways as it moved through the process — including a provision to create local Special Education Advisory Committees (SEACs) in every district — but ultimately the bill did not make it through the final stages to passage. This resulted in no additional funding for special education services, outside of a small increase in Safety Net funds.
The legislature allocated an additional $1.9 million for the special education Safety Net program for the upcoming school year based on changes made to the Safety Net formula in 2019 (Senate Bill 5091). The Safety Net provides districts meeting the criteria with additional funds to meet higher than expected costs for providing a program of special education.
The legislature provided an additional one-time amount of $45.8 million in Local Effort Assistance (LEA) to help districts cope with higher than anticipated assessed property values for calendar year 2020. The higher than expected property values made impacted districts eligible for less LEA support than had been expected when award amounts were budgeted for 2020. This does not change the LEA formula and is not expected to continue in future years. No changes were made to how much local revenue districts can raise through the local levy system — though a couple of bills were introduced that would have increased the allowable amount — and none of the proposals would have addressed the continued inequities in our local levy and LEA systems when considering student needs.
We look forward to working with legislators, state leaders, and partners during the interim to continue to push for a more equitable education system that supports every student to success — particularly as student access to necessary resources is impacted by school closures across the state.
Read our 2020 Legislative Priorities
Watch our Lunchtime LEVinar 2020 Legislative Session Recap: What Washington Got
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