May 2021 Newsletter: WA's legislative session unprecedented progress

As we continue to emerge from this pandemic, our systems and policies are breathing new life and energy into Washington state. A hat tip is owed to lawmakers, their constituents, and foundation partners and grantees for conducting their work remotely during this historic legislative session. To recap: Following a 105-day session, the Legislature adopted key pieces of legislation and allocated new funding to expand access to education, particularly for those young people furthest from opportunity.

Some of the efforts that we and our partners are celebrating include the passage of the Fair Start for Kids Act, a landmark piece of legislation that will provide new funding for early learning and affordable quality child care. Starting in FY 2023, $400M+ in annual new funding from a newly adopted state capital gains tax will expand access to the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), which will support and prepare 3 and 4-year old children for kindergarten and success in school. We are proud that lawmakers took action on behalf of Washington state’s kids, as early learning has been a priority for the foundation since its inception more than two decades ago.

Other advances in education coming out of this legislative session included:

Increasing access to higher education, credentials and careers:
Lawmakers made it easier for students to file for federal financial aid for college or graduate school through the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This supports the work of our partners to improve access to essential financial aid, which so often provides a first step for high school students from low- and middle-income backgrounds to pursue their college degrees. The Legislature also expanded Career Connect programs, which provide meaningful, real-world job experiences to students.

On addressing the needs of the whole child:
This year’s legislative session resulted in the elimination of the co-pay requirement for reduced-price school lunch; allocating budget for additional mental health counselors and nurses in the high-poverty school districts; and additional funding allocated to special education family liaisons, who provide guidance to parents on resolving disagreements with school districts about special education services.

It was a huge victory to receive a significant uptick of $149 million in public health funding routed to local public health districts after many years of chronic underfunding.

With these wins, however, there were also a few missed opportunities to drive equity in our educational system–most notably the failure to support high quality charters in Washington state. The legislature did not approve legislation to equalize public funding for current public charter schools nor extend the authorization window for new charter schools. Since charter public schools in our state serve high percentages of students of color, students experiencing poverty, and students with disabilities, this is a set-back in advancing our aspirations to deliver high-quality education for all students. It will be important for our legislature to ensure that our education system fully supports equitable education, which should include our state’s charter schools.

Finally, as a foundation we have and will continue to reassess our programmatic plans and shift investments to meet community needs during the pandemic. If you’re curious to know how our work has evolved as a result of the challenges presented by COVID-19 over the last year, and what remains the same, read our new summary here.

Thank you for your partnership.

Here’s what else we’re sharing in this month’s Newsletter:

Thank you for your partnership,

Your Gates Washington State team

Follow us on Twitter: @GatesWA.

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