While comprehensive K-12 school reform is still a long way off, state lawmakers were able to push through three pieces of legislation this session that should help our most vulnerable students achieve a better education.
Thanks to the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, more money has been allocated for assisting homeless students, and more emphasis will be made in helping foster kids get to college. Another new law calls for an end to long-term suspensions and expulsions with no alternative education plan — a discipline strategy youth advocates say disproportionately punishes minority students.
These are all admirable measures that have the potential to change the course of many young lives, and legislators were wise to see them through.
▪ House Bill 1682 will create grant programs to add school liaisons for homeless students, as well as provide other resources, like transportation and emergency shelter.
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The federal McKinney-Vento act requires school districts to help homeless students stay in their regular school, which means that even if their family loses its home and has to move out of the school’s boundaries, the school district must try to find a way to keep them in their home school.
This gives students much needed stability, but the $950,000 federal grant provided every year to the state for this mandate has not been nearly enough. Legislators put $2 million in the state budget this session to help schools better serve their homeless students.
▪ House Bill 1999 sets the goal that Washington will be top in the nation for the number of foster kids graduating from high school and completing college. It would be incredible if we could make this happen.
Foster kids, as a group, are among the most likely to fail to complete high school. This new law intends to turn that around by requiring caseworkers to develop educational plans for kids in the foster care system, and then coordinate those efforts with schools, social workers and caregivers. This could be a game-changing program for foster kids.
▪ House Bill 1541 requires school districts to find a way for students to continue their education when they have been suspended or expelled, either using online resources, tutoring services or other alternative programs. Prior to this new law, students could be removed from school for up to a year with no process in place to see if they were keeping up with their school work.
Those in favor of the bill said that kicking kids out of school for an extended time just makes it more difficult to get them back on track later, and they are more likely to get into even more trouble.
Adding to this concern was a Seattle Times report last year that noted black and Latino students were three times as likely to be suspended as white or Asian students. This bill tries to address this terrible discrepancy.
All in all, getting these three education measures through the Legislature shows an encouraging emphasis by lawmakers to help troubled and anxious kids get an education. In this, legislators deserve some praise.