Legislative Review: K-12 Education and levy fairness

With the 2019 legislative session now behind us, new policies signed into law are beginning to go into effect. This is part five of my series highlighting policy and budget outcomes from this year’s legislative session. If you missed my previous updates in this series, check them out on my website!

Thanks so much for your advocacy and energy this year in support of Seattle Public Schools and fixing Seattle’s levy crisis. This was one of the issues I heard the most about from constituents–your efforts really made a difference. We had many great accomplishments, passing progressive legislation on topics including climate and the environment, health care costs, housing affordability and tenant protections, behavioral health, gun safety, higher education affordability, and education funding, just to name a few. I always appreciate hearing your feedback.

Thanks for taking the time to read this update,



P.S., Please follow this link to complete my one-question survey on housing stability to help me prepare a robust housing affordability, homelessness, and tenant protections legislative agenda for 2020.

K-12 Education and levy fairness

With an additional $13 billion in new state funding going to education during the McCleary era, the days of chronic under-funding of our public schools are over. However, this doesn’t mean the education funding debate is over. McCleary was always about the floor–the minimum the state needs to fund. Lawmakers can, and should, strive to provide the highest-quality education for our kids, which will require additional investments. We also need to ensure local school districts, like Seattle Public Schools, have flexibility to raise local dollars to provide enhancements to basic education that make sense in their communities.

In 2019, Washington Democrats stood up for students by passing landmark legislation to address these challenges.

School levies

Public education in our state is a partnership between the state, which provides the resources, and the 295 local school districts, which decide how best to deploy those resources. The 2017 Republican levy reduction was a drastic funding cut to education. In the two years since, nearly every major newspaper and TV news station has run stories featuring local school administrators, including from here in Seattle, threatening to make major cuts unless they received additional levy capacity. It was clear the 2017 policy was too drastic of a cut to local school dollars and additional levy flexibility was needed to avoid layoff notices from going out across the state.

With the levy policy passed this session, schools will have the resources they need to make the investments that are right for their students –investments like after school programs, tutoring and mentoring, music, art, band, athletics, college prep courses, student clubs, and field trips. Now it’s up to local school leaders to use those resources to provide the best possible education to our state’s 1.1 million school kids.

Additional K-12 education policy successes

  • High school graduation requirements: Linking statewide assessments to graduation was a failed policy. Too many smart, bright students saw their dreams crushed because they couldn’t pass a single test. HB 1599 eliminates the requirement that students pass the statewide standardized assessment in order to graduate. These statewide assessments were originally implemented to measure effectiveness of the education system as a whole, not individual student proficiency in a given subject area at a single point in time.
  • Addressing the teacher shortage: Nearly all of Washington state school principals recently surveyed said they are struggling or in “crisis mode” to find qualified teachers to fill their classrooms. HB 1139 is a comprehensive new law aimed at addressing the teacher shortage from a variety of angles, enhancing recruitment efforts, expanding financial incentive programs, expanding support programs for beginning teachers, and creating the Professional Educator Collaborative to continue examining issues related to teacher recruitment and retention.
  • School safety and well-being: Students need more than just academics in school; they need to be safe in school, and they need to feel safe.. HB 1216 requires each of our nine educational service districts to establish Regional School Safety Centers to provide training in behavioral health coordination, suicide prevention, school-based threat assessment, as well as staff assistance in crisis situations, technical assistance, and partnership development and collaboration.
  • Special education funding: Increasing funding for special education was a high priority for most legislators during the 2019 session. It was also critical to do so in a way that ensured districts have the flexibility they need,  and that districts where students have the greatest needs are able to access safety net funds when necessary. This bill takes major steps forward in special education funding by increasing the special education multiplier for the 2019-20 school year, then applying a tiered multiplier that incentivizes districts to ensure students with disabilities are spending as much time as possible in a general education setting.

The work continues in 2020

There’s still more work to do to increase graduation rates, reduce student homelessness, improve special education outcomes, ensure students are physically and emotionally healthy, and prepare students for a 21st Century global economy. Here’s a look at legislation we will continue working on in 2020.

  • Comprehensive sex education: Sexual health education is currently not mandated by the state, although state law does require districts that do choose to teach sex ed use curriculum that is medically and scientifically accurate, age appropriate, and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, or sexual orientation. The House and Senate sex ed bills introduced in 2019 would have mandated comprehensive sexual health education be taught in every public school by the 2021-22 school year. The bills would have also expanded the content to include instruction on building and maintaining healthy relationships, bystander training, and the importance of affirmative consent. I know many people who contacted me during the 2019 legislative session were deeply disappointed that we didn’t get this done this year. I agree, and am committed to doing all I can to help make sure comprehensive sex ed passes in 2020.
  • School counselor access: The McCleary lawsuit may be resolved, but the state still has a ways to go toward ensuring schools have the necessary resources they need to provide high-quality learning experiences for all students. Guidance counselors play an important role in improving academic outcomes, particularly with students from low-income families. They are also important for improving student safety and reducing abuse and bullying. HB 1265 would increase state funding for student guidance counselors to be closer to nationally recognized standards of one counselor per 250 students. The bill would also ensure the funding is largely going to provide direct services to students (min. 80 percent of counselor’s time).