Back-to-school education law review

High School Success, Legislation | 09/30/2021

Virginia Barry
Policy & Government Affairs Manager, Stand for Children Washington

The Washington Legislature ended its 2021 session in April, but the effects of the bills passed this year will be felt for decades to come. At Stand, we remain committed to tracking and supporting the legislation that will ensure all students receive a high-quality, relevant education. As students, teachers, and families settle into the 2021-22 school year, here is our back-to-school review of several of those new education laws and what we’re watching for next:

Mental Health & Counseling Resources

The law:

Stand parents, volunteers, and partners fiercely advocated for the passage of SSB 5030, which implements a comprehensive school counseling program in every district across the state. The bill protects counselors’ time to ensure they are able to spend 80% of their day providing vital academic, mental health, and college and career planning support. Additional new funding for critical support staff also included over $51 million to add school counselors to high poverty elementary, middle, and high schools.

Although we are celebrating positive progress this year, we also recognize that there is still more work to do. From April 2020 to April 2021, the Washington State Department of Health saw a 75 percent increase in youth inpatient community hospital discharges for mental, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental disorders according to The News Tribune. The need for mental health and academic support in schools has only grown more urgent due to the pandemic’s impacts on education. 

What’s next:

Washington state currently funds school counselors in each district based on the number of students they have, but the funding is not currently required to be specifically used on counseling services. When districts experience budget strains, they are often forced to make difficult choices about support staff -- either to cut the positions to meet other needs, or raise the funds through additional local levies. Tacoma Public Schools is one example of how a district might have to seek outside funding to meet its most basic support staff needs.

As student writer Charlie Nunes wrote in the Seattle Times earlier this year, “Schools need to do better about remembering the in-betweens, by making sure everyone has access to trained counselors when they need them, or else it’ll just be another story about how the education system failed.” The need for legislation to ensure equitable access to school counselors and other school support staff is apparent and will surely come up in the 2022 session. 

If you want to ensure that every student has access to a school counselor and support when they need it, sign up here to advocate with us this year.


Incarcerated Student Supports

The law:

As we expand our areas of advocacy at Stand to encompass more systems that impact students and families - including the criminal legal system - we were proud to support E2SHB 1295 in 2021. This bill specifically targeted the needs of students who are incarcerated by providing more equitable support for graduation, including accommodations that students in foster care or experiencing homelessness receive, and greater access to postsecondary opportunities.

Although this law is a step in the right direction, we agree with our partners serving youth in foster care at Treehouse that many incarcerated students also need special educational services - as many as 50-60% of them - but still don’t have their needs met.

What’s next:

One of our priorities going into 2022 is to look further upstream for opportunities to support young people in exiting the criminal legal system. We are seeing progress across the country to do so by eliminating criminal fines and fees for young people. Four states have already passed proposals, including Virginia, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Texas. Our neighbors in Oregon are considering similar legislation and Stand volunteers in Indiana are fighting for the abolition of these court costs as well.

In Washington, there was a movement in 2021 to reduce criminal legal financial obligations (fines and fees) for adults when House Representatives considered Rep. Tarra Simmons’ bill, HB 1412. There is growing consensus in Washington that young people must be included in that effort. Stand is already in conversation with community partners about how we can help make this a reality.

If you have a story about how legal fines and fees impacted you or your family or you want to learn more about how to help, sign up to advocate with us here.

Preparing for Graduation

The law:

Stand joined with our partners in the High School Success Coalition to protect nearly $9 million in funding for equitable access to dual credit earlier this year. Dual credit courses better prepare students for post-secondary education; students who take a dual credit course are more likely to enroll in and persist in a program after high school. The budget line item we protected provides free AP/IB tests for low-income students, subsidized tuition for College in the High School, and grant support for districts seeking to improve equity in dual credit enrollment. 

Additionally, educators from across the state successfully advocated for the state legislature to expand funding for a popular and successful pilot program that supports on-time student graduation by setting a strong foundation in ninth grade. The state superintendent’s office set aside $3M to expand the original $250,000 pilot program.

What’s next: 

We’re ready to step up and support education legislation that would remove the structural barriers that have limited students of color and low-income students from accessing college and training for family-wage careers. A key component of our advocacy to support on-time graduation also includes defending a rigorous high school diploma and ensuring every student has access to high-quality pathways.

You can stand up for the support students need and defend a high-quality high school diploma signing up here to advocate with us this year.

Anti-Racist Education

The law:

Stand served as supporters to the organizations that led the successful push this year for SB 5044, which ensures that all educators will receive diversity, equity, and inclusion training and that DEI will be embedded in the existing cultural competency standards. We also had several passionate volunteers write an op-ed in the Spokesman-Review applauding the support the bill will provide for teachers.

Spokane Public Schools stands out among the districts that are already ahead of the game in implementing racial equity in their school policies and practices. Educators and parents across the state are eager for this type of training to become more available, but also for more concrete steps to be taken in supporting racial equity in education.

What’s next:

The reality is that a majority of Americans support the teaching of accurate, fact-based history in school classrooms, including the “hard” stuff like American slavery and the genocide of Indigenous tribes. But we’re seeing a small group of critics make national headlines for political gain by trying to censor what teachers can teach in their classrooms, to everyone’s detriment. Stand is proud to be part of the Learn From History coalition that is taking a stand against this misinformation. In 2022 we’ll be supporting legislation that ensures students of color feel a sense of belonging in the classroom and fighting back against any efforts to put more unnecessary stress on our teachers.

Stand with us against misinformation by supporting an anti-racist education system: sign up today to be an advocate this year.

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