Dear friends and neighbors:
When the Legislature met earlier this year, one of our top priorities was addressing access to affordable, high quality childcare. It is one of the biggest issues facing families here in Kitsap and around the state. The childcare system was in crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic and after more than a year of economic disruption, it is on the brink of collapse in many communities. Estimates show working parents in Washington lose out on $14 billion a year in wages due to the lack of childcare access.
A Fair Start
I was proud to vote for the Fair Start for Kids Act (SB 5237) and to lead development of a financing plan to implement a multi-faceted approach to solve the childcare crisis, address racial equity, and help the economy by allowing more parents to be able to go to work and keep their jobs. The landmark legislation will focus on several strategies:
- Stabilizing and expanding the childcare industry through increased subsidy rates from the state for children from lower-income households, and improving funding and resources for professional development of childcare staff, and for non-standard hour care, trauma-informed care, and care for children with special needs;
- Making childcare more affordable through reduced copays for families accessing Working Connections Childcare subsidies and extended eligibility to more families;
- Making childcare and early learning more accessible through expanded eligibility and access to more services; and
- Strengthening services such as mental health consultation, home visits, equity grants, dual-language supports and early intervention services.
The Legislature appropriated nearly $1 billion to help improve access to these vital services. I look forward to seeing the results of these investments in the months and years to come. If you are interested in more information on eligibility for your family, or for your employees, additional information is available here.
Supporting new parents and babies
For the first time, our state budget included funding to help nonprofit organizations distribute donated diapers at “diaper banks” to help young families in need. Disposable diapers can cost more than $1,000 over a year and we know babies need to be changed up to 10 times each day. In addition to a boost in cash assistance for needy families, these smart, targeted investments will improve life for these babies and their families. Diaper Banks, like Eastside Baby Corner (West Sound) in Bremerton provide supplies directly to parents who come to their location, and they provide items like diapers to foodbanks and shelters around the region.
Strengthening K-12 education
Investments in public schools will make up about half of the state’s next two-year operating budget passed by the Legislature this session. Thanks to $3.4 billion in federal grants, lawmakers were able to boost funding in several areas to help students with learning loss that affected many kids during the pandemic. Additional funding from the grants will support new special education spending as well.
The legislature also made changes to state funding formulas that govern transportation, local levies, and per-student state funding to ensure our schools are fully staffed and ready to welcome students back safely in the fall. In addition to the budget work to support public schools, the Legislature passed several important policy bills. These included:
More support from counselors: Senate Bill 5030 will ensure students have greater access to school counselors, not only for career guidance but to address trauma and mental health needs that have been amplified for many by the pandemic. It requires schools to allow guidance counselors to focus at least 80 percent of their work week on their primary duties, rather than filling in for other teachers and staff as is the practice in many schools.
Access to technology: House Bill 1365 will require the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop a technology grant program with the goals of attaining a one-to-one device-to-student ratio and supporting staff with new technology training. OSPI will also establish a permanent grant program to support media literacy and digital citizenship.
Free menstrual products for all students: House Bill 1273 will require all K-12 schools serving students in grades 6-12 to make menstrual hygiene products available at no cost in all female-designated and gender-neutral bathrooms. Schools serving students in grades 3-5 must make the products available in a school health room or other location as designated by the principal. Higher education institutions must also make these products available. While the legislature removed sales tax on menstrual products last year, they are still curiously expensive, and many teens do not have adequate access to supplies from home. This bill aims to remove the humiliation that many of us can remember (especially in middle school!) from unexpectedly menstruating or not having supplies, and I hope will make it easier for students who are menstruating to better concentrate and remain in school for the full day.
Eliminating lunch copays: House Bill 1342 will eliminate lunch copays for students who qualify for reduced-price lunches, beginning in the fall. Covering all copays will help eliminate stigma students feel and reduce financial stress for families while improving academic performance.
- House Bill 1139 will require schools built before 2016 to test for lead contamination at water outlets in the buildings, communicate information to the community about the test results, take mitigation measures, and adopt an action plan if lead level concentrations exceed established thresholds.
- House Bill 1363 requires school districts to adopt policies and procedures related to preventing and addressing secondary traumatic stress in the workforce.
- Senate Bill 5299 will allow a student to substitute an approved computer science course for a third year of math or science credit for graduation purposes when the substitution is aligned with the student’s High School and Beyond Plan.
Thanks for taking the time to read this update. As always, please feel free to contact me at Christine.Rolfes@leg.wa.gov.