Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E22 - Legislative Update: School Funding, Special Education, and School Lunch

January 24, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 22
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E22 - Legislative Update: School Funding, Special Education, and School Lunch
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Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Seattle Hall Pass, Christie and Jane delve into developments shaping K-12 education in the 2024 Washington State Legislative Session. Tune in for a breakdown of these legislative developments and a preview of what to expect in the coming week. Topics covered include special education, school lunch, and more.

See our show notes for links to the committees, bills, and more. 

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Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
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Legislative Session: School Funding and Special Education

[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. I'm Christie Robertson. 

[00:00:13] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. In this episode, we are bringing you news from the Washington legislature, as what happens in Olympia also directly impacts our SPS kids.

[00:00:23] Christie Robertson: Let's kick things off with House Bill 1914. This is a really significant bill aiming to enhance special education services in a variety of ways. 

[00:00:34] Jane Tunks Demel: The bill got a hearing in the House Education Committee in the first week of the session and was brought for a vote last week.

[00:00:41] Christie Robertson: Which was week two. 

[00:00:42] Jane Tunks Demel: Right.

[00:00:44] Christie Robertson: HB 1914 addresses several significant problems within special education. First, it shifts the burden of proof in due process hearings. What this means is that when parents Sue the district, instead of having to prove that the district is not giving their child a free and appropriate education, the district has to show that they are. 

There was a hearing on Senate Bill 5883 last week which tackled just the burden of proof. And there was a lot of great testimony. Here's Karen Pillar, the Director of Policy at Team Child.

[00:01:22] Karen Pillar: We really support the shifting of the burden of proof and production to school districts during the educational disputes that can sometimes lead to due process hearings. We've represented students and their parents in these disputes. And we have found that when they attempt to raise a disagreement with the school district, as a family of a student with a disability, they face many, many barriers, as Senator Trudeau already testified to. A barrier in the ability to speak, read, and write in English. To carve out unpaid time from their jobs and care for their families to participate in this dispute process. To navigate complicated legal landscapes that require them to write interrogatories, produce evidence, cross-examine witnesses, be deposed, and make legal arguments. 

And so this would shift one barrier properly to the school district. The school district holds the responsibility of producing education records. They have them, their staff get paid to show up at these taxpayer dollars are used to pay for their attorneys. So under the current structure, really only families with wealth to hire an attorney. Or the very few families who get a civil legal aid attorney, which is a very small number, really have access to this process. 

It levels the playing field, and it really will result in better resolution. I think, as has been said before. It really puts a little bit of emphasis on the school district side to really come to the table and resolve them. And it will save money. 

[00:02:43] Christie Robertson: Back to HB 1914. Besides burden of proof, this bill also introduces a Special Education Ombuds, expands reporting to parents about exactly which special education minutes their children are actually receiving in school, I think it adds some language supports, and maybe a couple of other bits and pieces.

The prime sponsor of this bill is Representative Travis Couture, who is from District 35 - Shelton. He's very mission-driven for special education and for disabled kids. And he is my very favorite Republican. It was clear that he had put in a lot of legwork to get as many people as possible on board with the bill so that it could proceed with broad bipartisan support.

[00:03:34] Jane Tunks Demel: And it worked! House Bill 1914 past out of the Education Committee on January 18th, with lots of representatives chiming in and to wish it well.

[00:03:44] Christie Robertson: The House Education Committee, meeting of January 18th is well worth watching on TVW, and we'll play part of it here. I'll note that some of these legislators do tend to go on a bit. So I have condensed their messages.

Here's Representative Ortiz-Self. 

[00:04:02] Rep Ortiz-Self: One of the things that I get a lot of questions and concerns about are the whole federal IDEA, IEPs, minutes... It's a daunting world to walk into. 

This bill does several things towards that end - giving parents their rights in their language. Which is important. So many of our English language learner parents can't even enter into this world. I think that's a critical piece. 

Having OEO come beside them and help, just even to know that they're there to ask questions and get advice from. It gives schools the possibility of being able to work with the ESDs and getting some additional support. 

So all of that coming together to help with the transparency and help parents to understand the system, I think is critical. Especially for parents dealing with IEPs. So I thank you for bringing this forward, and I would urge a yes vote. 

[00:04:58] Christie Robertson: Republican John McEntire was the only vote against passage out of the Education Committee. He spoke to the perspective of the stress of requirements like these on teachers. 

[00:05:11] Rep. Joel McEntire: I understand the difficulties that a parent may face. I also bring a different perspective. Prior to my time in the legislature, I was a teacher. I love teaching. It's something that brings me the most joy out of any activity I can do, probably, except for playing poker. And online chess. But I love taking something that's difficult to understand and mysterious and unfolding it and presenting it to somebody in a way that they can understand. And I see the light bulb go off above their head, and they understand it. 

However, I can say that when I was a teacher, I was never so stressed, depressed, and burdened. I've done some incredible things that are difficult, but being a middle school science teacher was probably the hardest of all of them. 

If I had heard that this legislation was coming, it may have broke me off at some point. For thousands of teachers, their willingness to stay in the field hangs on by a thread. By a thread.

Now had I known and had an assurance that the legislation would come with assistance and help, people that would help me to fill these obligations, I would have been at ease. At this point though, sadly, Madam Chair, I do not have those assurances. So, sadly, at this time I'm going to be a no.

[00:06:24] Jane Tunks Demel: Representative Gerry Pollet from Northeast Seattle had a noteworthy response. 

[00:06:34] Rep. Gerry Pollet: I want to start by thanking the prime sponsor, Representative Couture, for understanding and collaborating with parents and legislators who are concerned about the inability of children with disabilities to get the services that is their constitutional right to have, in order to have a appropriate public education, guaranteed by federal and state law. And start with noting that in an individual education plan (IEP), which is the core for providing those services for students — whether it's a speech pathologist or a parent educator or occupational therapy or physical therapist — a plan is only as good as the implementation. And if a child is not receiving hours that they were committed to in a plan for a speech pathologist or occupational therapy, the parents should know that and they should be able to have a discussion about making sure that happens. 

And that's what this bill does at its core, which is so important. It also provides staffing through the ESDs (Educational Service Districts) where we have shortages, which is also really important in terms of concerns about the burden. And finally it incorporates a provision that this committee passed last year in HB 1305. Recognizing that it is entirely fair for the school district to have the burden of proof. In an appeal about services, because they have all the records, they know what was provided. They have the assessments. And for those reasons I urge a yes vote.

[00:08:27] Christie Robertson: And that was Rep Pollet's bill HB 1305. But then after it passed out of their committee, burden of proof got stripped out of it. So again, this is just the very first hurdle. 

So we'll see what happens next? 

And then there was Chair Santos, making a strong plea to push for this bill to be heard in appropriations. 

[00:08:54] Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos: Well, the Chair would simply wrap up this conversation by, also urging a yes vote. I will thank the bipartisan members of this committee for working on this proposed substitute, so that we could get to a majority, if not a unanimity. While I hadn't planned to speak, I was moved to speak by the assistant ranking member’s words, because you spoke as a true teacher. There's not a teacher that I know who doesn't derive that joy that you described in being a teacher. And especially, and I'm speaking as the daughter of a special ed teacher, some of those children — the victories in academic success. Are so hard fought and hard won. And they may be small in comparison to a general education student. But they are equally important. 

And so I want to acknowledge the source of your concern. But I will also note that the biggest assurance to get these supports where they are needed is not in this committee. It is in the committee that it is going to next. And so I urge members of this committee as well as others to utilize your resources, to implore upon our appropriations members, the level of import that you see attached to this bill. 

[00:10:42] Jane Tunks Demel: We urge our listeners to sign up for email updates to House Bill 1914 if and when it is scheduled for a hearing in the Appropriations Committee, you can then sign up to testify to this bill either remotely or in person. There's even an online form that you can fill out to have your position noted for the record. 

And that takes literally two minutes. We'll include the link in our show notes.

[00:11:06] Christie Robertson: You can also email your legislators and encourage them to support. House Bill 1914, as well as encourage their colleagues to push it along. 

[00:11:15] Jane Tunks Demel: So Christie. What's SJM 8007 about.

[00:11:20] Christie Robertson: So I was unfamiliar with this acronym. SJM actually stands for Senate Joint Memorial. And apparently a memorial is used to communicate from one legislative institute to another. And in this case, the Washington Senate is using this memorial to communicate to the US Congress. And what they're asking for is for Congress to finally fully fund their portion of special education. 

Here's Alex fairfortune, who is staff to the Senate Early Learning K-12 Committee. And she is providing the background on this history and the joint memorial. 

[00:12:02] Alex Fairfortune: Thank you Madam Chair and members, Alex Fairfortune, staff, the Joint Memorial before you is SJM 8007, pertaining to IDEA funding. To provide a brief background, according to a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, when Congress enacted the predecessor legislation to the IDEA in 1975, a determination was made that the federal government would pay some of the excess cost related to educating children with disabilities. Congress’s final determination was that the federal government would pay up to 40% of excess costs, a metric that is sometimes referred to as full funding. However, according to that same report, IDEA funding has fallen short of this full funding amount each year from the formula’s enactment. Coming closest in 2009, when funding reached 35%. Funding amounts currently average around 13%. The Joint Memorial before you request that Congress pass on the President-signed federal legislation to fully fund 40% of the costs of the IDEA. That concludes my remarks. 

[00:13:00] Christie Robertson: In testimony, SCPTSA past president Samantha Fogg pointed out that by coincidence, the federal underfunding currently happens to match the shortfall districts are facing. 

[00:13:13] Samantha Fogg: Last year we had a lot of discussion with all of you around the multiplier, and I want to thank you for your additional investment in special education. But one of the things that I learned during that process is that the amount that we were asking for — the amount that is different between what districts were paying for special education and what they were receiving from the state — that amount is equal to the amount that the federal government is supposed to be contributing. And I was stunned that that was so nice and neat. I also want to say that I've been advocating on this issue at the federal level as well. And what we hear consistently is they need to hear more. 

They need to hear more voices. They need more pressure. And I see this as more pressure from you. And I really look forward to being in partnership with you, advocating at the federal level. For the funding that our state needs. That our districts need. That our students need. To access that basic education. Because we all know that this is about the civil rights of our students and honoring the intent of IDEA. Our federal government has an obligation. 

And I thank you for making sure that you put the pressure on them to meet that obligation. 

[00:14:25] Christie Robertson: Okay, Jane, and I hope all our listeners heard that. Congress needs to be feeling more pressure to fully fund their 40% share of the cost of special education. 

[00:14:37] Jane Tunks Demel: Another very important bill getting bipartisan support this year is House Bill 2058, which currently aims to grant all students access to free breakfast and lunch in public schools.

[00:14:48] Christie Robertson: That's right. HB 2058 was heard and passed out of the House Education Committee with unanimous support. We'll see how that goes as the bill proceeds along, because at the beginning of last session, there was also a bill that was going to fully fund meals for all kids. And it got quite watered down. I do hear both sides of the aisle talking pretty vehemently about the importance of this, at least in the Education Committee. So we will see what happens next in Appropriations, where people will talk about what it's going to actually cost.

School funding of course is a huge issue this session. 

[00:15:26] Jane Tunks Demel: It sure is. 

There's a major funding-related bill sponsored by Seattle's Jamie Pedersen, Senate Bill 5770, which aims to provide state and local property tax reform. It was heard in the Ways and Means Committee last week.

[00:15:42] Christie Robertson: State Bill 5770 does a number of things. But the biggest change is that it increases the amount that property taxes can go up per year from 1% to a maximum 3% with some caveats and exemptions. That's a pretty big difference. 

[00:15:59] Jane Tunks Demel: I would love to hear from the budget team at Seattle Public Schools what impact, if any, this bill would have on our budget.

[00:16:05] Christie Robertson: The bill that would fund districts for all federally mandated student transportation is SB 5873. It passed out of its original committee and is slated for a hearing in Ways and Means this week. So that is a good sign. 

[00:16:18] Jane Tunks Demel: Another bill, Senate Bill 5882, would fund significantly more teaching assistants, office support staff, and instructional aides. It has passed out of the Senate Education Committee and is waiting to be heard by Ways and Means.

[00:16:32] Christie Robertson: So far, there’s no bill to completely remove the special education cap, but SB 6014 would lift the cap to 17.2,5%, the amount requested by the governor. And it has passed out of Education and is also waiting for a hearing in Ways and Means. 

[00:16:49] Jane Tunks Demel: We talked about how this cap works in our first legislative episode. If you're not familiar with the concept, you can go back and listen to that.

[00:16:57] Christie Robertson: So much to keep track of Jane, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

[00:17:01] Jane Tunks Demel: Indeed. What should we be watching for next?

[00:17:04] Christie Robertson: Already we are starting to get into this week because legislators are going at lightning speed, way faster than we're able to make podcasts. Monday, there is a hearing on a different restraint and isolation bill, and that bill is 5966. So this is a Senate version, which is much milder and more objectionable than the previous Senate bill 5559. 

Also to be heard on Monday is second substitute House Bill 1239, which is a bill that Chair Santos has been working on with somebody from our own district, Julianna Riggs Hillard. It’s a really important bill that aims to protect kids and make a better tracking system so that teachers who hurt kids can be held to account. 

Tuesday there's ways and means hearing on student transportation. Wednesday there's an Early Learning K-12 hearing on paraeducator compensation and the student mental health network. Those are just a few of what's coming up this week. If you want to see the whole schedule there's lots of tools on the legislative website, where you can track, for example, the education committees in both houses and find out when they're meeting or when they're hearing your favorite bill. 

[00:18:27] Jane Tunks Demel: Okay, so let's take a look at the calendar, which seems to speed up as it goes along. The first deadline is approaching quickly: Wednesday, January 31st.

[00:18:38] Christie Robertson: Yep. That's the last day cutoff for most committees to pass bills. Any that need to be heard by a fiscal or a transportation committee after that, they only have five more days to get through that hurdle. So February 5th is the deadline for those committees. 

[00:18:56] Jane Tunks Demel: That's right. February 13th is the next key date marking the last day a bill can pass in its house of origin.

[00:19:04] Christie Robertson: After that, committees have until February 21st and 26th to pass bills from the opposite house, with some exceptions for fiscal matters.

[00:19:16] Jane Tunks Demel: And March 1st is a cutoff for passing bills from the opposite house.

[00:19:21] Christie Robertson: Then only six days later, the session ends March 7th. This date is dictated by the state constitution for when a short session has to end. 

[00:19:32] Jane Tunks Demel: No wonder everything's going so fast and furious. Sometimes there are four committees meeting at the same time in each of the four time slots in a day.

[00:19:42] Christie Robertson: If you're ever bored, go to tvw.org and click on the live button, you can see what's going on or listen to any previous hearing. 

[00:19:50] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this episode. Don't forget to check out our show notes on Seattlehall.pass.org. We'll link to all of these bills and you can sign in or track how they progress.

[00:20:01] Christie Robertson: If we missed one of your favorite bills, email us at hello@seattlehallpass.org. Thanks for listening and tell your friends about us. This is Christie Robertson. 

[00:20:09] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. Join us next time on Seattle hall pass.