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Taking Action in Olympia - Session Wrap-Up Edition

04/28/2021
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WEA members worked together last fall to elect pro-labor, pro-education candidates to our state legislature and it made a huge difference in advancing our priorities in this year’s legislative session.  WEA members and staff worked with our education champions all session for fully funded, equitable, safe schools that have the resources they need to recover from the pandemic.  Together we sent more than 7,000 emails to lawmakers and testified at dozens of hearings to make sure our students’ needs were heard.

On Sunday, April 25, the Washington state legislature adjourned for the year after passing a biennial budget and many education-related bills.  Legislation passed this session supports equitable, inclusive schools to better serve every student, whether rich or poor, and whether Black, brown, or white.

Congratulations to WEA member leaders who made their voices heard for these policy advancements and thank you to WEA lobbyists Lorrell Noahr, Julie Salvi, and Lucinda Young for a very unusual yet successful session.  This was Lucinda Young’s final legislative session in her long and esteemed career as a lobbyist at WEA; we thank her for her incredible contribution to making public education even better and we wish her all the best in her retirement.

Four Big Things We Accomplished Together This Legislative Session

More details on our victories follow, with highlights:

  1. Created anti-racism and cultural competency training for K-12 and higher education faculty and staff.  Newly passed legislation established, and the biennial budget funded, one day of professional development to ensure every K-12 educator is equipped to meet the needs of every student equitably.  Additionally, the legislature created anti-racism professional development for our public institutions of higher education that will be developed in cooperation with faculty and staff.
  2. Eliminated the edTPA requirement for teacher certification.  Recognizing that the edTPA was an expensive, time-consuming hurtle that deters low-income student teachers and student teachers of color from becoming certificated, the legislature voted to eliminate it as a requirement.
  3. Began to make our upside-down tax code more fair.  Lawmakers passed and funded the Working Families Tax Exemption, which provides up to $1,200 in tax relief for qualifying families, and also a capital gains excise tax, which applies to extraordinary profits on selling stocks and bonds.
  4. Expanded the availability of affordable broadband.  New legislation allows public utility districts, counties, and ports to provide broadband services directly to families, allowing more Washingtonians to get access to affordable, reliable internet coverage.

Passing legislation for schools that serve each of our students

Fully fund schools

Funding K-12 and higher education in the state budget

Our education system is getting an unprecedented influx of funding from the federal government’s and state’s COVID relief funds.  Highlights of the 2021-2023 biennial state budget:

  • Addresses some of the funding losses from transportation and student enrollment formulas during the pandemic.  Unfortunately, the state budget treats the new federal funds for K-12 as a deductible revenue, effectively reducing the state funding commitment to higher-poverty districts.
  • Funds learning recovery and acceleration, including one-time contracts to provide tiered supports, professional development, and other COVID recovery needs.  Federal funding will pass through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for summer engagement programs and afterschool programs.
  • Funds an additional 0.5 FTE guidance counselor for high-poverty schools beginning in school year 2022-23.
  • Expands funding for the school nurse corps to ensure one nurse one day a week in Class II school districts.
  • Provides annual inflationary increases for K-12 salaries of 2% for 2021-2022 and 1.6% for 2022-2023.  The 22-23 increase is a projection and subject to change.
  • Funds two professional development days per year for paraeducators.
  • Avoids furloughs in higher education and funds I-732 COLAs at 1.7% and an estimated 2.2%.
  • Expands funding for Guided Pathways and Job Skills programs at CTCs.
  • Continues the subsidies for Medicare-eligible retirees in the PEBB program.

Fixing our upside-down tax code

The legislature passed two new laws this year that will begin to make our tax code more fair.  They eased the taxes on working families by passing and fully funding the Working Families Tax Exemption, which would give tax credits of up to $1,200 for qualified households.  The legislature also took a step toward making the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share by passing a capital gains tax, which applies only to profits of more than $250,000 on the sale of certain financial investments like stocks and bonds. 

Improve equity, dismantle racism, meet the needs of all students

This session lawmakers focused on bills that related to either equity or the pandemic, and the new laws on the books reflect that focus.  Because of the bills passed this session, students will have access to more supports and their educators will be better trained to meet their needs.  Among the new laws passed this session:

Improves educator diversity and inclusion and better equips educators to provide equitable learning

  • Eliminates the edTPA.
  • Creates anti-racism and cultural competency PD for K-12 and higher education educators.
  • Requires school districts to adopt policies and procedures to prevent and address secondary trauma in the K-12 workforce. 
  • Requires community and technical colleges to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plans.

Expands funding for community and technical college access

  • Expands eligibility for higher education scholarships.
  • Expands access to the homeless and foster care college students pilot program. 

Ensures more students have access to the resources they need to fully engage in learning

  • Establishes a foster care point of contact in K-12 schools.
  • Requires schools to publish on their websites contact information for depression, suicide prevention, and other mental health support organizations.  
  • Eliminates school lunch co-pays for students eligible for reduced-price meals in all grades PK-12.
  • Ensures school counselors spend 80% of their time with students, reducing time on paperwork and meetings.
  • Allows districts to establish in-school health centers. 
  • Begins providing menstrual products in schools.
  • Creates a plan to improve the educational programing and outcomes, provides educational navigators, and increases state basic education funding for students who are incarcerated.
  • Eases the transition from incarceration to postsecondary education. 
  • Creates more flexibility for the learning assistance program funding to better address learning gaps and mental health needs.
  • Eliminates indigenous mascots, logos, and team names at public schools.
  • Helps close the homework gap by providing a new grant program for digital devices in schools.
  • Creates programs around media literacy and digital citizenship.

Updates attendance and graduation requirements

  • Continues a work group assigned to identify the cross-disciplinary skills a student should have by the time they graduate high school.
  • Modifies school attendance laws to reflect a focus on multi-tiered supports and interventions to better support rather than punish students’ families. 
  • Allows students who take college-level classes in their high schools to receive college credits. 

Address COVID-19’s impact on schools

  • Ensures any COVID-related cuts in hours or furloughs do not impact the calculation of pensions.

Ensure school safety

  • Creates a program to test for lead in school drinking water and to mitigate  if found.

Next steps

These strides forward were only possible because WEA members elected pro-education, pro-labor champions, shared our stories with lawmakers, and took action together.  Coming up, we will focus on electing school board candidates who support us and bargaining locally to ensure the influx of federal funds makes a difference for our students and our classrooms.

We continue to support candidates from local school boards to our state legislature through WEA-PAC.  If you’re not yet a member, join now!

As these laws go into effect, we will share more information about what they mean for us as educators.

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