Dear friends and neighbors,
Before this year’s legislative session concluded on March 10, the Legislature invested in the long-term success of all of Washington students, teachers, and families. As a father of four students and the husband of a special education teacher in Seattle Public Schools, I know how challenging these past two years have been for our students and educators. The pandemic also reminded us of how critical schools are to our community’s well-being and economic security. In this newsletter, I’ll share a few legislative highlights of our work to strengthen our state’s public schools, colleges and universities.
Supporting success in K-12 schools
The pandemic has made everyone more aware of the emotional burden our young people carry and how it affects their learning. To help support school districts and our students’ physical, mental, and emotional health, lawmakers added more than $1 billion in new funding to the budget this year. The most notable victory was an agreement to hire more nurses, counselors, and social workers. Schools will begin receiving money for these positions by next fall. That includes $639 million for student support staffing and $363 million for enrollment stabilization to ensure schools are fully staffed next fall. New funding will also ensure families can engage with their child’s school in their native language, make sure students have easier access to nutritious food, expand financial education, enhance student media literacy, and raise pay for teachers. We provided funding to allow school districts to raise educator salaries by 5.5% this year. The state’s capital budget also included a substantial investment in school seismic safety retrofits, including an initial $100 million this year.
Strengthening higher education
This Legislature worked to improve accessibility and affordability in our state public higher education system and to help students succeed. The Washington College Grant program will receive an additional $137 million and a $150 million investment will create a new Washington Student Loan Program with interest rates no higher than 1 percent. We made several other key investments:
- $48 million for various higher education student outreach and retention programs, including programs to expand financial aid access and support
- $37 million for new nursing and healthcare degree programs
- $44 million for higher education compensation support
- $13 million for cybersecurity training and degree programs
- $9 million in one-time funding to match private donations and pledges for the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship
- $10 million for the UW Clean Energy Institute
- $246,000 to expand a homeless student pilot program to two additional four-year institutions
- 50 new slots for computer science and engineering degrees at UW
Last year we passed the Fair Start for Kids Act to address the childcare crisis comprehensively, promoting racial equity; helping the economy by stabilizing and expanding the childcare industry; and making childcare more affordable for families. This year the Legislature added funding to the $1 billion investment made last year to speed up implementation and improve the system as we emerge from the pandemic.
As a member of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, I work to improve outcomes and opportunities for students of all ages here in Seattle and across the state. We’ve made these investments so we can continue to build one of the best public education systems in the country.
Thanks for taking the time to read this newsletter. Please contact me at Jamie.Pedersen@leg.wa.gov with any questions. In the coming weeks, I’ll continue to provide a updates on major issues addressed by the Legislature this year. If you missed it, last week’s newsletter on public safety is available here.