After a few late weekend nights, the Washington State legislature ended on time, adopting a new 2-year, $52.4 billion state budget that included $836 million in new revenue. The budget and its accompanying bills included a historic investment in college affordability and career learning, increased Special Education funding, and relief for school districts worried about reduced local funding levels.
High School Success Priorities
At Stand for Children, we are celebrating the inclusion of a $250,000 pilot program for Freshman On-Track programming, which will bolster the state’s efforts to identify incoming high school students at-risk of not graduating and establish teams of educators to provide supports to get them back on-track. Research by the University of Chicago shows that students who finish 9th grade on-track are 3.5 times more likely to graduate on time.
In addition to securing funding for the pilot, the High School Success Coalition worked diligently to successfully ensure the passage of HB 1599, which has officially established Academic Acceleration statewide. This makes Washington State the first state in the country to adopt such barrier-breaking policy to automatically enroll all proficient high school students into “the most rigorous course” available to them – a policy that has demonstrated dramatic increases in dual credit course enrollments for students of color and students living in poverty. The journey to establishing the policy statewide began in 2013, when Stand for Children Washington worked with Rep. Pettigrew to establish an Academic Acceleration grant program, leading to 50 districts adopting the policy. We hope the Freshman On-Track pilot will be a similar starting place to expanding the programming across the state.
In last Friday’s Roll Call, we covered in detail how HB 1599 will change Washington’s high school graduation requirements—replacing the stipulation that students pass the state’s English and Math tests with 8 pathways available to students to demonstrate career-and-college readiness. Protecting the rigor of Washington’s high school graduation requirements has been a long-time priority of Stand for Children and we believe the new structure has the promise to do so. The bill also made necessary changes to the High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP), requiring schools to align the HSBP with student’s course schedules, IEP’s, and post-high school goals, while also requiring schools to inform families and students about financial aid options and support them in filling out the aid forms. A welcome change, with Washington ranking 48th in the country for the percentage of students submitting financial aid forms.
Along with these policy changes, the budget made a number of notable investments that will support high school success. Maintaining the same funding levels as the last 2 years, $9.8 million is provided for dual credit programs including subsidized Advanced Placement exam fees and International Baccalaureate class fees and exam fees for low-income students. Almost a million dollars is allocated to develop and online High School and Beyond platform and staff a mastery-based learning workgroup. And for elementary and middle schools, $1,813 million is provided for increased school counselors at 20 of the state’s most struggling schools. Schools must have staffing at or above the prototypical staffing level for guidance counselors to receive the funding; a concept we hope will spread to all state-provided counseling funding.
The 2019-2021 Biennial Budget
There are a number of other investments to celebrate in the state budget. For K-12 education, the budget includes $3.9 billion in new funding including $155 million for Special Education; but the majority of the funding reflects the final phase-in of increases planned in the 2017 session to bring K-12 funding up to constitutionally acceptable levels in response to the McCleary decision.
It’s a good reminder that decisions in past years continue to bear fruit in future sessions. As a result of securing a high-poverty concentration addition to the Learning Assistance Program (LAP) in 2017, this biennial budget reflects approximately $305 million dollars going to schools with 50% or more students on Free and Reduced Price Lunch. This in addition to increased general LAP funding that the state began in 2013 and codified in 2017 that equates to an increase of more than $100 million per year. In all, the state’s support in the 2019-21 budget for LAP is $637 million more than in the 2011-13 biennial budget.
The majority of the $155 million increase in Special Education will be dedicated to fulfilling a new tiered multiplier system (SB 5091) that will give more funding to schools with SPED students spending 80% or more of their time in an inclusive, general education setting. There is also funding allocated for a larger special education safety net and $25 million set aside for professional development on inclusive teaching approaches to students with special needs. The rest goes to the special education safety net, including a lowering of the threshold needed to qualify for the funds from 2.7 times the average per pupil expenditure to 2.3 times the average per pupil.
The most contentious K-12 debate this year centered around whether the state should allow school districts to raise more local funds after limiting them in 2017. A compromise around levy authority came about only in the final hours of the session (SB 5313). The cap on local district levy funds was raised from $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to $2.50 or a max of $2,500 per pupil—whichever is less. Seattle got a special exemption, allowing the district to raise up to $3,000 per pupil. A sticking point for many districts may be that the raised levy authority does not come into effect until the start of 2020, so 2019-20 budget cuts announced by many districts earlier this month may not be reduced and will depend, in part, on a district’s voter-approved levy limits. We were glad to see the compromise also included more stringent reporting measures, which will mean more transparency into how levy funds are being spent. The state budget also increased funding for districts that can raise the levy minimum of $1,550, called Local Effort Assistance, by $61.6 million. You can find estimated impacts of levy funding for every school district created by State Senate staff here.
Higher Education and New Revenue
Almost half of the new revenue raised in this budget is for the creation of a new Workforce Education Investment Account (HB 2158). The new account, providing $373.8 million for the 2019-21 biennium, will serve as a dedicated source of funding for two smart investments—the State Need Grant and career-connected programming. The $162.7 million allocated for the State Need Grant means that by 2020-21, all eligible students will finally be covered. The bill also rebrands the grant as the Washington College Grant program and expands the eligibility for the grant from 70% of Median Family Income to 100%, pro-rating grant sizes by need. Other investments through the account include $11.5 million for career connected learning initiatives and $172.3 million for foundational support, salary increases, the implementation of Guided Pathways, and new degrees and expanded enrollments in high-demand degrees at our community and technical colleges.
The new Workforce Education Investment Account is funded by creating a new dedicated revenue source, a 3-tiered surcharge on the state’s Business and Occupation (B&O) tax on specific professional services such as architecture, engineering, online retail, software publishing, telecommunications and legal, financial, and medical services, with the higher surcharges applying only to large technology companies.
The rest of the 2019-21 biennial budgets new revenue comes from an increase on the state’s real estate tax for homes selling for more than $1.5 million ($243.5 million), an increased B&O tax on large banks ($133.2 million), and the shrinking of a tax benefit for international investment services ($59.4 million).
What Didn’t Happen, that We Wish Did
Every session, there are plenty of good ideas that don’t make it through the process. Two bills stand out for us this year. Sen. Braun’s SB 5532 would have created a structure for more family engagement and advocacy in special education. It was a smart bill that should be revisited next year. Similarly, Sen. Wilson’s SB 5395 would have required comprehensive sex education in Washington schools, a common sense idea with a shocking amount of opposition.
That’s not all, of course. There is plenty more we all need to do to provide every Washington student with the life-changing education they deserve. But for now, thank you for the support you provided our legislative efforts this year and all you do for Washington’s kids.