Improving students’ educational opportunities
Washington State's Constitution is clear that it is the state's “paramount duty” to provide for the education of all Washington children. The state's K-12 system has undergone extensive reforms over the last couple of decades, some ordered by the Washington State Supreme Court and others initiated by the Legislature.
As we strive to improve students' educational opportunities, I keep a few guiding principles close to heart.
Our school system must be responsive to diverse families and home experiences. Parents who are deeply engaged in their child's education and well-being should be given the opportunity to participate in and guide their child's learning. And children whose families are not engaged, or face dysfunction at home, must be provided support that ensures an equitable opportunity for them to succeed.
Schools, in collaboration with families, should ultimately prepare students to succeed in the workforce and their personal lives. As a lawmaker, I am tasked with developing laws that can facilitate a high-quality learning environment that respects those principles.
There are several areas of K-12 policy that I will be working on this year.
The Legislature must address the learning loss caused by the pandemic-driven school closures. One of my priorities is ensuring school districts have the resources to hire staff to provide remedial support, including tutoring services.
In addition, our special education funding model needs to be updated. Special education is currently funded on a per-pupil basis using a multiplier to allocate additional funding for the higher cost of instruction.
Current law limits this supplemental funding to a school district special education population of up to 13.5%, though many districts have greater than 13.5% special education rates. This leads to a deficit in special education state funding that local levies must pick up. Neither the multiplier nor the arbitrary 13.5% limit reflects current demands.
I have cosponsored a bill lifting the cap and increasing the multiplier this year in response to this changing need.
Transparency in decision-making for parents and community members increases the opportunity for engagement. Last year, my bill to require school boards to record their meetings passed the House unanimously but did not make it past the Senate. This bill has been re-introduced for consideration this session as House Bill 1210.
An important intersection of K-12 and higher education is our dual credit programs. Programs like Running Start, College in the High School, advanced placement exams, Cambridge international exams, and international baccalaureate exams allow high school students to earn college credit during their high school experience. However, fees, transportation, and material costs must be borne by the student and can inhibit low-income students' ability to participate.
I have cosponsored two bills this year that support these programs.
The first bill, House Bill 1003, expands Running Start into the summer and covers the cost of dual credit programs for low-income students. These costs include course fees, textbooks, and exam fees. Dual credit programs allow students to complete their educational career and enter the workforce sooner while reducing the number of years they may accumulate student debt. That's why the bill also incentivizes students who take enough dual credit to receive an incentive rebate of $1,000.
The second bill, House Bill 1146, requires high schools to provide all students and their parents with dual credit and financial assistance information to help students make future plans.
Hunger hinders learning at school. While there are programs to provide free or reduced-price meals to many students based on family income, often, low-income students are identifiable to their peers because of lunchroom systems designed to track subsidized meals. Some schools already participate in a program that allows no-cost meals to all students based on the school's high poverty rate.
This year, I am supporting legislation to offer meals to all students without regard to family income. The goal is to reduce stigma, improve efficiency, improve learning, and provide working families with a small but reasonable return on their tax dollars in the form of meals for their children.
School safety is at the top of the mind for many students, families, and school staff. Many school buildings are aging and do not include modern safety features. In response, I am cosponsoring a bill that allocates funding for school districts to retrofit and modernize physical school building safety.
There are many moving parts in education policy, but these are some of my education priorities in this session. As always, I welcome ideas and participation from residents of the 16th District as I work to develop education policies that are responsive and reflect the families I serve.
Editor's Note: Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, represents the 16th Legislative District.
As published in the Prosser Record Bulletin