Washington State House Democrats


House sends educational opportunity gap bill to governor’s desk

OLYMPIA – After several attempts in recent years, a high-priority bill for House Democrats aimed at closing the educational opportunity gap is heading to Governor Inslee for his signature.

The opportunity gap refers to structural problems within the education system that disproportionately affect students of color and reduces their opportunities to excel academically.

Reps. Lillian Ortiz-Self and Sharon Tomiko Santos embrace after HB 1541 wins approval in the Senate.
Reps. Lillian Ortiz-Self and Sharon Tomiko Santos embrace after HB 1541 wins approval in the Senate.

“Every child in Washington state is guaranteed the right to an equitable education under our state constitution,” said Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle), chair of the House Education Committee. “Right now, we are not delivering on this promise. Closing the opportunity gap is the single most important step we can take to ensure that every student has a meaningful opportunity to learn. I am pleased with the action taken by the Senate today. This vote moves our state closer to eliminating the inequities that exist in our educational system and giving our students the opportunities they need to succeed.”

The House concurred with Senate amendments to HB 1541 today, a bill that adopts the recommendations put forth by the Education Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC). Those recommendations address three main areas:

  • The cultural disconnect between educators and students of color.
  • The disconnect between schools and the families of students of color.
  • The lack of quality data on student demographics that enable policymakers to make better informed decisions.

A major policy reform behind HB 1541 centers on student discipline reform. Students facing long-term suspension often lose touch with their schools due to the lack of available educational services provided to them while out of school. Many of these students drop out of school permanently.

HB 1541 requires schools to work with affected families to develop student reengagement plans. The bill also requires schools to provide educational services to students while students are in a disciplinary status.

“There’s been a lot of focus on education funding the last few years,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo), co-chair of the EOGOAC. “A fully funded education system is important, but it’s only part of the solution. Fully funding a broken system will not get us the educational outcomes we want when the deck is stacked against so many of our kids. All kids deserve an education. Closing the opportunity gap is a huge step in the right direction in restoring equity in our schools.”

“One size in education does not fit all,” said Santos. “It does not work for all students. Unfortunately, right now the system is designed with this ‘one size fits all’ approach. No matter what their needs, our paramount duty as a legislature is to meet students where they are.”

The complete EOGOAC recommendations can be found here.