Proposed school policy overhaul meant to address opportunity gap

Gabriel Ray Pierre (left) high fives a student at Leschi Elementary School on Friday, as part of #SeattleHigh5. The event aimed to show children of color positive images of black men and women in their community. (Photo by Jovelle Tamayo)
Gabriel Ray Pierre (left) high fives a student at Leschi Elementary School last year, as part of #SeattleHigh5. The event aimed to show children of color positive images of black men and women in their community. (Photo by Jovelle Tamayo)

A proposed overhaul of state school policies that aims at dealing with cultural and education gaps relating to poor students and students of color could face a partisan fight in the Washington Legislature this year.

House Bill 1541, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, made it out of the House Education Committee by an 11-10 party line vote Thursday. Santos is the committee’s chairwoman.

It brings a laser focus to students of color,” Santos said.

Santos’ bill would do the following:

  • It would prohibit long-term suspensions and expulsions as discretionary discipline; would limit all suspensions or expulsions to the length of an academic term, would require a re-engagement meeting that includes the student’s family; and would prohibit school districts from suspending educational services as a disciplinary action.
  • It would require better tracking of youth in the juvenile justice system.
  • It would develop cultural competence training for all school staff members.
  • It would boost scholarships for teachers in special education, bilingual education and English Language Learners. It would address requirements for teachers in bilingual education programs.
  • It would require collection and analysis of racial and ethnic information on teachers and students.
  • It would require the Washington Department of Early Learning to create a community information and involvement plan to inform early learning providers of the Early Achievers program.

The same bill was passed by the House three times last year, but died in  the Senate’s Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee along partisan lines each time.

Santos said this year’s version is “more modest” than the 2015 version.

Education committee member Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia, urged committee members to back the bill.

“This is first bill in five years to ask schools to see children differently. We have … to work with the teachers already there to see the world through a different lens,” he said.

But the education committee’s ranking Republican Rep. Chad Magendanz of Issaquah objected to the scope of the bill.

“It’s a bill trying to lump too many things into one bill.”

He said Republicans could support the bulk of Santos’ bill if it were split into smaller bills.

Magendanz said Republicans oppose the proposed change to school discipline policies, saying the state adopted a new standard two years ago. Changing them again could cost $25 million, he said.

“I urge a ‘no’ vote because it doesn’t have a chance be passed by the other chamber or being considered by the other chamber,” Magendanz said.

However, Santos said her bill’s many facets are intertwined and if a piece is removed, that would have detrimental ripple effects on the other segments.

The bill is currently scheduled for public hearing and executive session in the House Committee on Appropriations today.

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