OLYMPIA – After several attempts in recent years, a high-priority bill for House Democrats aimed at closing the educational opportunity gap was signed by Governor Inslee on Tuesday at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle.
The opportunity gap refers to structural problems within the education system that disproportionately affect students of color and reduces their opportunities to excel academically.
“Every child in Washington state is guaranteed the right to an equitable education under our state constitution,” said the bill’s prime sponsor Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle). “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. Today we move our state closer to eliminating the inequities that exist in our educational system and giving our students the opportunities they need to succeed.”
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 will reduce the number of long-term suspensions, require schools to work with affected families to develop student reengagement plans, and require schools to provide educational while students are in a disciplinary status. These reforms will help students stay engaged in learning even when discipline is necessary.
HB 1541 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.
“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.”
The complete EOGOAC recommendations can be found here.