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Legislature increases funding for special education

May 13th, 2019|

A bill signed today by Gov. Jay Inslee increases funding for special education, paving the way for more inclusive learning environments.

Senate Bill 5091 was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee. The additional special education funding comes at the request of parents, teachers and schools.

“We know that Washington’s special education students aren’t as successful as students in other states, and that is absolutely unacceptable,” Wellman said. “In order to make meaningful changes, including more inclusive learning environments, we must allocate additional funding to implement evidence-based practices.”

“Improving our special education practices will take more work in coming years, but the changes we made this year are a great step,” she added.

The bill includes a two-year phase in of increased special education funding, with schools receiving more money when they offer more inclusive learning environments.

During the 2019-20 school year, the state’s cost multiplier for special education funding increases from 0.9609 to 0.995. This multiplier would be applied to calculate the amount of general education funding that each student receives in a given school district. For example, in a school district with $1,000 in per pupil funding, the district would be allocated $1,995 for each special education student.

Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the state’s cost multiplier would increase to 1.0075 for special education students learning in a general education environment for 80 percent or more of the school day. For example, in a school district with $1,000 in per pupil funding, the district would be allocated $2,007.5 for each special education student.

The state’s cost multiplier would remain at 0.995 for special education students learning in a general education environment for less than 80 percent of the school day.

School districts that demonstrate significant extra need beyond what they receive from this formula would be eligible for safety net funds.

In Washington, less than 4 percent of students with disabilities are identified as having an intellectual disability, and more than 90 percent have above average intellectual functioning, according to data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. But only 55 percent are placed in general education for 80 to 100 percent of the day. For students of color, the number is even lower — only 47 percent.

“Evidence shows that students who are included in general education have better outcomes,” Wellman said. “We know that this takes more resources, but it’s what we should be working toward.”

Governor signs Wellman bill to expand broadband service

May 13th, 2019|

Gov. Inslee signed a bill today to expand broadband access to underserved communities. Senate Bill 5511 was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island).

“Expanding internet access throughout Washington state will increase equity in both education and business,” Wellman said. “Many of us simply can’t get through the day without accessing the internet. But we still have so many rural communities that don’t have access to this essential service.”

The bill establishes the Governor’s Statewide Broadband Office. This office previously existed in Washington state but was eliminated in 2014. It also requires the Public Works Board to establish a competitive grant and loan program to help develop broadband service to unserved or underserved areas.

Some public utility districts will temporarily be allowed to provide retail telecommunications services. Port districts will be able to provide telecommunications services within and outside of their district limits, as a result of the bill.

“I want every child in Washington to have access to the rich learning experiences that internet access provides,” Wellman said. “Far too many kids in rural communities lack that access, which is truly necessary to a modern education.”

Governor signs bipartisan school safety measure

May 8th, 2019|

unding K-12 education is the paramount duty of the state, yet students need far more than just academics in school. More resources, more coordination, and more support is needed to help all schools improve training and safety measures. Those are the guiding principles behind House Bill 1216, the bipartisan school safety measure by Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), vice chair of the House Education Committee.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Inslee today.

The legislation is the product of a 10-month stakeholder process with parents, teachers, students, school leaders, and community safety experts that began after the 2018 legislative session, to create a robust plan for school safety and student well-being.

The bill will create “Regional School Safety Centers” across the state to provide training, support, and coordination to educators and students. Amended into the legislation are the provisions of Senate Bill 5141 by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, regarding School Resource Officer (SRO) training and policies. Wellman also introduced the companion to Dolan’s bill in the Senate.

“We’ve heard from students, parents, teachers and administrators that school safety is a growing and ongoing concern,” Wellman said. “Each and every student should feel safe and secure as they go to class, and every parent should know that their child will return home at the end of the day. This bill is a great step toward ensuring that reality.”

The bill requires each of our nine educational service districts to establish Regional School Safety Centers to provide training in behavioral health coordination, suicide prevention, school-based threat assessment, as well as staff assistance in crisis situations, technical assistance, and partnership development and collaboration. The final 2019-20 state operating budget provides funding for one FTE in each Regional Safety Center.

“Moving forward, I plan to continue working with budget leaders to provide funding for additional FTEs to maximize the efforts of the Regional Safety Centers,” said Rep. Dolan.

A State School Safety Center is also established within the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to serve as a clearinghouse and to disseminate information regarding school safety. It will also develop model policies and procedures, identify best practices, and provide training on school safety. The state center will work with the regional centers to help school districts meet state school safety requirements.

Public engagement will continue through the School Safety and Student Well-Being Advisory Committee. The advisory committee will meet at least quarterly to make recommendations on policies and strategies, and identify emerging safety issues. By Jan. 1, 2020, the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), in collaboration with the OSPI, must develop a model policy and procedure to establish a School-Based Threat Assessment Program. During this process, WSSDA, OSPI and the advisory committee will work with organizations with expertise in school safety, behavioral health, the rights of students with disabilities, and protecting civil liberties.

The bill also mandates training for SROs in school districts that choose to have them. The school district must confirm that every SRO has received training on twelve topics — including relevant federal and state laws — best practices on working with youth, and alternatives to arrest and prosecution. By the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, school districts must annually review and adopt an agreement with the local law enforcement agency that incorporates specified elements, such as defining the duties of a SRO, confirmation that SROs are trained, and a complaint process.

“As a grandparent, an educator for 30 years, and now as a legislator, there’s probably nothing more important to me than school safety and student well-being. Those two have to go hand in hand because kids not only need to be safe, they need to feel safe in our schools,” said Rep. Dolan.

Legislature passes school levy agreement

April 29th, 2019|

The Washington State Legislature reached an agreement Sunday, and passed an update to the state’s school enrichment levy policy to better serve students, teachers and Washington’s 295 school districts.

The bill now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for signing.

In 2017, the Legislature made historic changes to the state’s school levy policy to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling that basic education must be funded by the state, not by local levy dollars. Senate Bill 5313, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), updates that policy by allowing local taxing authority for non-basic education programs such as athletic teams, debate clubs, summer learning programs, field trips, mentoring, and teacher training.

“Local communities should be able to decide what’s important to them when it comes to enrichment programs that fall outside the realm of basic education,” Wellman said. “And that’s what this bill allows. We brought the levy cap down too hard in 2017, and it’s time to make adjustments.”

The bill is the result of discussions with districts, teachers, parents and students over the past year. People from throughout Washington testified in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, chaired by Wellman, asking for changes to the enrichment levy policy.

SB 5313 would allow levies in the amounts of:

  • The lesser of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $2,500 per pupil for school districts with fewer than 40,000 FTE students; and
  • The lesser of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $3,000 per pupil for school districts with 40,000 FTE students or more.

Districts would receive local effort assistance funding when a district receives less than $1,550 per student with a levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Tribal compact schools and other identified school districts will be eligible for specific local effort assistance funds.

The bill would ensure that enrichment levies are used only for enrichment activities — not basic education — by directing the state auditor to review local revenue expenditures. A school district found to have used levy funds for non-enrichment activities would see its levy rates reduced for the following year in an amount equal to the amount spent improperly.

“This agreement allows local communities to fund programs they value without triggering another pre-McCleary situation,” Wellman said. “Local levies shouldn’t pay for basic K-12 education, and we’ve taken that into account. This bill has teeth, ensuring that enrichment levies pay only for non-basic activities that local taxpayers choose.”

Measure changing school bond threshold dies on Senate floor

March 12th, 2019|

A measure that would have made it easier for local districts to pass school bonds failed today after it didn’t receive the required vote in the Senate.

Senate Joint Resolution 8201, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), would have amended the state constitution to change the school bond threshold for passage from 60 percent to a simple majority. Changing the state constitution requires a two-thirds vote in each body of the Legislature — 33 votes in the Senate.

The resolution received only 28 votes. The entire Senate Democratic Caucus voted for the resolution, while no members of the Senate Republican Caucus voted for it.

“We’ve been hearing from schools for years, for decades, that we need to change the 60-percent requirement for school bond passage,” Wellman said. “Meanwhile, student health and safety is being put at risk as school districts are unable to raise the funds for necessary school improvements.

“We’ve heard stories of black mold, of roofs caving in, and still a minority of this body is keeping us from making this meaningful change.”

Implementing a simple majority for school bonds would have required both SJR 8201 and Senate Bill 5066.

Representatives from large and small school districts throughout the state testified in support of these bills — including administrators, students and teachers from the Bethel School District in Pierce County, Reardan-Edwall School District in Lincoln County, North Thurston Public Schools in Thurston County, and Sequim School District in Clallam County.

Wellman also received letters, emails and photographs from students asking for a change in the school bond threshold. “This bill is really about local control,” Wellman said. “Oftentimes, a large majority of a community supports a bond — 51, 55 or 59 percent. And still, the bond fails and school districts don’t have the funding to make improvements or build new schools. It’s disappointing that some senators don’t trust their local communities enough to make this important change.”

Public Testimony on school bond measures from the Feb. 6 Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee Hearing:

South Kitsap School District

Video 1: The deputy superintendent of the South Kitsap School District recalls how many bond measures have failed in recent years — despite having more than 50 percent of the vote.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2VVDKZv

Video 2: The assistant superintendent of the South Kitsap School District explains the safety challenges and space constraints that come with an inability to pass school bonds. The district’s newest buildings are about 30 years old, while the rest are 50 to 70 years old.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2NXcOFU

Bethel School District:

Video 1: A student from Graham-Kapowsin High School, in the Bethel School District, explains the challenges her school faces because of overcrowding. She’s also concerned about school safety.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2HgKaiD

Port Angeles School District:

Video 1: A Port Angeles School District senior explains the challenges caused by his school’s aging building — including a time a classroom roof caved in.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2HfcUsa

Video 2: A Port Angeles High School senior explains what it’s like to attend a school that’s more than 60 years old. The heating doesn’t work and the roof leaks — and eventually it caved in.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2XTAwrh

Rearden-Edwall School District:

Video 1: A representative from a small, rural district describes several failed attempts at passing bonds. He also explains why this is a school safety issue.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2F8C8WY

Yelm Community Schools:

Video 1: The superintendent of Yelm Community Schools asks the Legislature to change the threshold for school bonds, explaining the burden the current model places on “property poor” school districts.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2CbuPMb

North Thurston Public Schools:

Video 1: A North Thurston Public Schools administrator describes the expensive process of passing school bonds in his district.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2ETU7if

Sequim School District:

Video 1: A school board member recounts the district’s history of trying to pass bonds.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2Ch8OeZ

Battleground School District:

Video 1: A science teacher from the Battleground School District explains the importance of changing the school bond threshold.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2VWJmml

Video 2: A community member recalls all of the bonds that have failed over the decades, and asks for a lower threshold for school bonds.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2u57QxW

Video 3: A school board member explains why changing the school bond threshold is a matter of safety and equity.
WATCH: http://bit.ly/2VVwOvg

Senate passes bill to increase special education funding

March 9th, 2019|

A bill passed today by the Washington State Senate increases funding for special education, paving the way for more inclusive learning environments. The bill passed with a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 5091 is sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee. The additional special education funding comes at the request of parents, teachers and schools.

“We know that Washington’s special education students aren’t as successful as students in other states, and that is absolutely unacceptable,” Wellman said. “In order to make meaningful changes, including more inclusive learning environments, we must allocate additional funding to implement evidence-based practices.”

The bill changes the state’s cost multiplier for special education funding from 0.9609 to 1. This multiplier would be applied to calculate the amount of general education funding that each student receives in a given school district. For example, in a school district with $1,000 in per pupil funding, the district would be allocated $2,000 for each special education student.

The bill also replaces federal funding for the special education safety net with state funding – which allocates additional funding to schools with students who have high-cost Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). This frees up the federal funding to be used for other services such as professional learning for special education teachers.

Wellman amended the bill on the Senate floor to apply the same special education cost multiplier to incarcerated youth who qualify for special education. Currently, state and county institutions do not receive additional funding for these students, even though more than half of students in these facilities qualify for special education services.

In Washington, less than 4 percent of students with disabilities are identified as having an intellectual disability, and more than 90 percent have above average intellectual functioning, according to data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. But only 55 percent are placed in general education for 80 to 100 percent of the day. For students of color, the number is even lower — only 47 percent.

“Evidence shows that students who are included in general education have better outcomes,” Wellman said. “We know that this takes more resources, but it’s what we should be working toward.” These bills now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate passes bill to promote career connected learning

March 9th, 2019|

A bill passed Friday by the Washington State Senate would expand career connected learning opportunities, helping students understand available career pathways and better plan for their future. The bill passed on a 45 to 3 vote.

Senate Bill 5327, the Career Connect Washington Act, is sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) and was requested by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“Teaching youth about a wide variety of career opportunities will help them connect with 21st century economic opportunities,” Wellman said. “Students have different learning styles, one size does not fit all. We must recognize that when it comes to education and career readiness. We want students leaving high school to have pathways to careers.”

Career Connect Washington brings government resources and the private sector together with a sustainable career connected learning system to address persistent educational opportunity gaps and meet employers’ workforce needs. It offers programs to advance students’ academic learning and allow them to discover, explore and prepare for jobs and careers that allow them to grow and succeed.

It comes as a result of a career connected learning initiative launched in 2017 with the goal of connecting 100,000 Washington youth with high demand, high paying jobs over a five year period.

The bill would create a cross-agency work group to build a statewide system of career launch programs. It would direct each of the state’s Educational Service Districts to employ someone to work with regional networks to expand career connected learning opportunities.

A grant program would be created to dispense funds for expanding career connected learning opportunities across the state. The bill would also direct higher education institutions to hire coordinators to develop and expand opportunities for academic credit for career launch programs.

SB 5327 now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

School safety bills pass state Senate

March 6th, 2019|

A package of bills to make Washington schools safer passed the state Senate today.

Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) prioritized the comprehensive and bipartisan list of legislation following a statewide Educational Service District tour and after reviewing recommendations by the state’s Mass Shooting Workgroup.

“Students, teachers, parents and school administrators throughout the state are coming to us with one common message,” said Wellman. “They want our schools to be safe and be a place where they can focus on quality education. These bills are the first part of our safety package worked with partners in the House of Representatives. ”

Wellman chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, which many of the bills passed through.

Senate Bill 5027 would amend Washington’s Extreme Risk Protection Order statute so that it applies to minors. The bill is sponsored by Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle). The bill came at the recommendation of the Mass Shooting Workgroup, which met during the 2018 interim, and is designed to keep guns out of the hands of minors who could pose a danger to themselves or others.

Senate Bill 5141 would make training on de-escalation, mental illness and other topics mandatory for school resource officers. The bill, sponsored by Wellman, would also require districts with school resource officers to adopt agreements with law enforcement agencies, including parents, students and community members in the process.

Senate Bill 5514 would require law enforcement agencies to inform all known local schools, including private schools, if any circumstances in the area could require a lockdown or evacuation. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley).

“These bills are reasonable, and I am convinced they will make a difference for the safety of our schools,” Wellman said. “One bill alone cannot solve this problem. We must take a holistic systems approach.”

The Senate also previously passed several bills that would improve student safety:

Senate Bill 5689, sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo), would protect transgender students from bullying. The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 27.

Senate Bill 5395, sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), would require schools to teach comprehensive sexual health education. The curriculum would teach students about consent, decreasing sexual violence and promoting healthier relationships. The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 27.

These bills now head to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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    Senate passes bill for comprehensive sexuality health education

Senate passes bill for comprehensive sexuality health education

February 27th, 2019|

Science-based, comprehensive sexuality health education would become a required component of public school curriculums, under legislation passed today by the Senate on a 28-21 vote.

“Many students are sexually assaulted or coerced into having sex, or find themselves in abusive relationships,” said Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “At its core, this bill is about safety. It’s about making sure that students have a safe place to ask questions, fully understand consent, and have the information they need to make safe decisions.”

Wellman co-sponsored the legislation.

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide evidence-based, sexual health education curricula from a list developed by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) or from other sources that satisfy OSPI guidelines.

Among other things, the curricula must:

  • encourage healthy relationships based on mutual respect and free from violence, coercion, and intimidation;
  • teach how to identify and respond to sexually violent attitudes or behaviors; and
  • emphasize the importance of affirmative consent before engaging in sexual activity.

“People call this sex education, but it’s about much more than sex,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the bill’s sponsor. “It’s about personal health, it’s about important life decisions, it’s about medical and economic consequences — all the things we want our young scholars to understand so that they can make the best choices for their health and their future.”

Wilson, who is vice chair of the committee, said the curriculum does not direct teachers to instruct students on how to have sex, as has been incorrectly alleged by some; to the contrary, it is proven to reduce unintended pregnancy and STDs.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans, including parents and young people themselves, believe students should have access to comprehensive sexuality health education in middle school and high school and developmentally,” Wilson said. “Information is power. It’s time we do a better job of sharing it.”

SB 5395 would require schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 by Sept. 1, 2020, and to students in grades K-5 by Sept. 1, 2021.

Having passed the Senate, SB 5395 now goes to the House for consideration in that chamber.

Why we must Keep Washington Working

February 13th, 2019|

Sen. Lisa Wellman gave the following speech on Feb. 12 in the Senate Law & Justice Committee regarding Senate Bill 5497, the Keep Washington Working Act:

America is a nation of immigrants. Indeed, with the exception of our tribal nations, that IS our heritage. And it has served our country well.

I think of the challenges so many faced leaving their homelands and facing the uncertainty of coming to a foreign country to build a life. I love that that’s who we are.

That’s the story I heard from my aunts around the kitchen table. Of my grandma from the Ukraine who decided there was no future there and took six children and a reluctant husband with her to found a dairy in New Haven. Or my grandfather from Austria who came as a young man to build a life in the garment district of New York. And where many of his descendants helped build an industry.

That energy, that drive for a better future, has fueled the United States, making us a nation of pioneers, of entrepreneurs, of dreamers and builders envied around the world.

We see that in our Washington state economy. We rely on that influx of drive and ambition. Today nearly one million Washingtonians — that’s almost one in seven — is an immigrant.

But, due to the lack of a comprehensive, rational immigration policy on the part of our federal government, our state and our economy has challenges.

Although this has been going on for many years, for many of us the issue became visible one evening at SeaTac Airport. Executives returning from business trips abroad, were stopped at SeaTac and held. Those images of Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson rushing to the airport to intervene stay with many of us. Far from feeling safe and welcomed home, those businessmen were threatened. As a former business executive myself I can tell you that creating a positive business environment is essential to keeping the business thriving and keeping your workforce happy. A hostile one – drives people away.

And that’s what this bill is about. Immigrants and our economy. Keeping Washington a great place to do business, invest, start a company that changes the world — entrepreneurship is what we’re about.

Almost one third of workers at Microsoft are here on visas. They come to work at a company that HAS changed the world. They buy homes in our communities, give their children music lessons, support the Arts and nonprofits, and, when the grandparents come to visit (sometimes for a month at a time) spoil their grandchildren outrageously as is the right of all grandparents.

Those employees don’t have to stay in Washington to stay with Microsoft — they can move to offices in BC – Canada would have them in a minute.

But this isn’t just about tech workers. You can’t run a hospital without immigrants providing services. The medical sector depends on them.

Or run a hotel without immigrants in the back of house. The hospitality industry depends on them.

Or harvest the apples that we’re known around the world for.

We need to support our thriving economy by keeping that welcoming, safe business environment that brought us here — that brought them here.

Our state, county and city agencies, the ones WE fund with OUR taxpayer dollars, need to work for Washingtonians.

Our safety officers — policemen, firemen, state patrolmen (and women) that we pay with our tax dollars need to work for Washingtonians.

This bill mandates that they will.

It does not prevent federal employees from doing the jobs the Federal government employs them to do.

Keep Washington Working puts our resources where we want them — building safer, healthy, communities and a thriving economy.

I commend this bill to you and ask for your support.