Let me first just say congratulations to each student who is making an educational transition – whether it is moving from preschool to kindergarten, graduating from high school or any where in between. And congratulations to their parents who are supporting them in this journey. With two kids now in high school, I feel your excitement and a bit of the trepidation of what’s ahead.
With so many graduation celebrations happening this week, I have been reflecting on the many steps the legislature took this year to lift up every young person through education. Below are some highlights from the 2019 session:
Special education services needed a boost
I have heard from many of you over the years about the problems with special education programs. The legislature made changes this year to pave the way for more inclusive, evidence-based learning environments and created incentives for districts to use environments that are more inclusive for students receiving special education services. The Legislature allocated over $150 million in additional funds to provide these changes and to assist school districts that have significant extra needs.
Dreams shouldn’t be crushed by standardized tests
For years, thousands of bright young students, many with college acceptance letters in hand, saw their hopes and dreams crushed because they couldn’t pass the state standardized assessment. This year, the legislature finally delinked this test and graduation requirements. Statewide assessments will continue, but passing those tests will no longer be a graduation requirement. This will give students more pathways to opportunity and success after graduation.
Students should be safe
Kids need to be safe and feel safe in school. This year, the Legislature took a holistic approach to help students be safe and supported at school by passing bills to help schools respond to threats and promote social emotional learning.
The legislature passed a bill specifically directed at dealing with threats, which came from the recommendations of the (horribly named) Mass Shootings Work Group. Instead of taking a reckless action like arming teachers, this bill helps provide behavioral health coordination, training in suicide prevention, and ongoing school-based threat assessment.
While it is essential that we are able to respond in a crisis, unless there is also focus on prevention and early intervention, we are just putting band-aids on a growing problem. This is why I have been such a strong proponent of increasing social emotional learning in schools. Social emotional learning gives students the skills they need to regulate emotions, interact with others, and find positive solutions to problems—skills that are essential in school and in life. This year we renewed the Social-Emotional Learning Committee, which will make recommendations for SEL standards and best practices for bringing these tools to schools, teachers, and students.
Reducing bullying and building empathy for all students
To address harassment and bullying, as well as reduce the disproportionate suicide rates that transgender students face, we passed a bill that requires schools to adopt policies to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. Additionally, we passed a bill to strongly encourage middle and high schools to include Holocaust education in their curriculum. Bias and hate crimes have been increasing and one of the best tools we have to change the tide is education. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I believe there is tremendous value in learning about our history. We must stand up and support all students and condemn the demonization of the “other”.
Professional development on mental health
Part of keeping a high-quality educator workforce is making sure that teachers have up-to-date training and professional development on skills they can bring into their classrooms. This session, I was able to designate that a day of professional development training every other year must be on a topic of mental health and well-being for teachers and other school employees.
Getting more teachers in the classroom
None of the goals of providing children with safe and enriching school experiences could be made possible without the hard work of school staff. But there is a severe lack of qualified teachers to fill classrooms. This year, the legislature passed a comprehensive bill to address the teacher shortage crisis by increasing recruitment and retention efforts and creating more incentives for people of diverse backgrounds to enter the education workforce.
Many of these policies were championed by my seatmates, Senator Lisa Wellman and Rep. My-Linh Thai. I must say, from infant care to apprenticeship or college graduation, you are well represented in Olympia on education issues!