Dear friends and neighbors,
Before this year’s legislative session concluded last month, the Legislature took several important steps to strengthen public education in our state. As the father of four students and the husband of a special education teacher in Seattle Public Schools, I know how pivotal a quality education is to the success of our kids and our state. In this newsletter I’ll share a few highlights of our legislative work to improve Washington’s public schools, colleges, and universities.
The most notable victory in K-12 education was a substantial investment in services for kids with disabilities. Although we have not come close to full funding of special education, schools across the state will receive $372 million in additional funding over the next two years, thanks to the passage of HB 1436. The legislation will also help increase inclusion efforts and outcomes for students with disabilities by building a stronger system of supports. Several other bills aim to improve our schools:
- HB 1238 increases the number of students that will have access to free breakfast and lunch. Starting next year, any school with 30% or more of their students eligible for free and reduced-price meals must provide a free breakfast and lunch to any student in kindergarten through 4th grade that requests it.
- SB 5072 expands access to accelerated learning and other types of enhanced instruction necessary for supporting our most highly capable students. The bill requires universal screening in or before second grade and then again in or before sixth grade for all students to identify and include students who traditionally are not referred for the services.
- HB 1207 will provide students, teachers, and parents with another tool to address harassment and bullying by requiring OSPI to develop a model student handbook explaining our state’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies and complaint procedures.
- SB 5257 guarantees that all elementary school students have access to at least 30 minutes of recess each full day of school and makes clear that recess should not be withheld as a disciplinary or punitive action.
- SB 5355 requires districts provide instruction in sex trafficking prevention and identification at least once between grades 7 and 12. Ria Bahadur, a high school senior from Kirkland, crafted the legislation in response to the growing prevalence of sex trafficking of minors throughout the country and within Washington.
The state’s new two-year capital budget also provided continued funding for school seismic safety retrofits, career and technical education program equipment, and building improvements to support physical health and nutrition. I was the lead sponsor of a successful request for $12 million in funding for Seattle Public Schools to support the skills center at Rainier Beach High School.
The Legislature worked to improve our state’s public higher education system this session with new investments to increase access, support instructors and students, and make facility upgrades. Here are a few of the highlights:
- $90 million for low-interest graduate student loans
- $13 million to expand access to the Washington College Grant and dual credit programs
- $37 million for new nursing and healthcare degree programs
- $58 million for the second phase of UW’s Magnuson Health Sciences Center renovation and replacement
- $6 million to increase enrollment in computer science and engineering at UW
- $3 million to develop a clean energy transformation strategy that transitions the Seattle campus energy infrastructure to 100% clean energy
- $12.4 million for the new UW Behavioral Health Teaching Facility
- $1 million to create a UW Center for Indigenous Health
- $1 million to continue firearm injury research at UW
- $28 million to design and renovate Anderson Hall to provide classroom and collaborative spaces for the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
- $9 million to design and construct the second phase of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ– Intellectual House, a learning and gathering place for the UW’s American Indian and Alaskan Native students, faculty, and staff and a center for sharing the knowledge of Northwest Indigenous peoples
- $7.5 million for the UW Clean Energy Testbeds to continue to accelerate the development and adoption of new sustainable technologies
- $150 million for UW Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center so they can continue serving as the state’s safety-net and workforce training hospitals
- $3 million to restore and renovate the historic ASUW Shell House
- $48 million to increase funding for health care workforce and training
In 2021, we passed the Fair Start for Kids Act to stabilize and expand access to affordable early learning and childcare. This year we invested an additional $332 million to create more access by boosting rates for providers throughout the state. In addition, SB 5225 expands eligibility to the Working Connections Child Care program to child care employees, families involved in therapeutic courts, and immigrant families who would otherwise be eligible but for lack of documentation. Another $75 million in the capital budget will help modernize and renovate child care facilities to add capacity to the system.
As a member of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, I have the privilege to fight for policies that will improve outcomes and opportunities for students of all ages here in Seattle and across the state. While many challenges remain, I’m proud of the steps we are taking 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 updates on major issues addressed by the Legislature this year. If you missed my updates on gun safety or access to reproductive care, they are available on my website.