Education: Future needs, lingering gaps open 2019 session

Connecting students with careers after they graduate and closing the special education gap are among issues that opened the 2019 legislative session. Photo: Freepik

Lawmakers began the first week of the 2019 legislative session with a look toward the future of schools in Washington and a look back at fixing the gaps in the sweeping education funding changes forged over the last several years.

Connecting students with careers after they graduate and closing the special education gap featured prominently in plans rolled out in Gov. Jay Inslee’s State of the State address and in legislators’ initial committee work, echoing growing concerns among parents, businesses and educators.

Both issues carry bipartisan support, however, the debate regarding how the state addresses these problems already began this week in committee.

Connecting students to careers

More than 70 percent of jobs created by businesses in Washington require post-secondary credentials of all kinds, yet only 40 percent of Washington students go on to receive post-secondary credentials.

“We have a mismatch going on,” said Maud Daudon, project leader for Career Connect Washington, in the Early Learning and K-12 Committee on Wednesday. “We have people who need opportunity … and somehow we need to bring this together.”

A growing consensus that state schools are not producing enough graduates prepared for careers brought together lawmakers and stakeholders last year in a taskforce called Career Connect Washington to move Washington’s education system into closer alignment with the state’s economic needs.

Inslee selected Daudon, former president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, to lead the taskforce of business, labor, school, community and government leaders in creating a 10-year plan for career connected learning. On Wednesday, she presented that plan to Senate committee members.

The proposal recommends three courses of action: create regional career connected learning networks, increase support for dual credit and paid apprenticeship programs and coordinate data to make sure these opportunities reach students statewide.

The recommendations require a $110 million investment which is included in the governor’s proposed budget.

“I feel like we’re responding in some ways very much to the customer demand out there from students and parents already,” said Daudon. “They’re eager to see these things done.”

The 10-year plan intends to build on programs and philanthropic efforts already in operation and often duplicated across companies. The bill to put the plan into action dropped on Thursday morning with a bipartisan list of co-sponsors.

“One of the most consistently popular issues on the political scene right now is new investments in career and technical education,” said Sen. Hans Zeiger, (R-25), a member of the Career Connect Washington taskforce and co-sponsor of Senate Bill 5327, the governor’s proposed bill to expand career connected learning.

Closing the special education gap

The last several years saw the legislature inject billions of new funding into schools along with the introduction of a flat local levy rate applied statewide in order to amply fund schools and remove inequities that put the legislature in violation of state law.

However, a KING 5 investigative report in May revealed that a cap on special education funding passed in 1995 puts the state in violation of a federal law requiring that special education services be provided for all students with disabilities such as dyslexia, autism or down syndrome.

“Students with disabilities need significant additional support,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, in an October press conference. “Districts have been paying for that out of levies, so if you cut levies you can’t support students with disabilities.”

The Senate and House budget-writing committees both opened this week with discussions of the governor’s proposed budget, including plans to address the issue.

Reykdal proposed a solution in October to provide $150 million for students with disabilities, a plan that the governor included in his budget proposal discussed this week in committee.

Both proposals, from Reykdal and Inslee, rely on large new tax increases, $2 billion and $3.7 billion, respectively, each featuring a tax on capital gains income.

Plans for the state to fund the special education services which schools pay for with local levies are also tied to a larger debate about how much schools may rely on local levies after the legislature lowered that amount in preceding years

While the governor and state superintendent included plans to increase the allowed amount, Republicans on the budget committee expressed concern this would bring back the inequities the education funding overhaul sought to eliminate.

Despite the broad agreement that special education requires action in this legislative session, committee work this week has already signaled that agreement on how this should be addressed will not be as easily reached.

“I agree this is an issue we should be working hard on in this session,” said Sen. John Braun, (R-20), ranking Republican member of the committee. “This is just as much about policy and accountability as it is about money.”

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