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April 1, 2023

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Legislature looks to aid rural districts, expand trades, cut costs for students


LONGVIEW — Filed state education bills that would have a direct effect on Southwest Washington prioritize students earning dual credit while in high school and eliminating cost barriers to programs like Running Start.

The legislative possibilities come as State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said seeing a rise in enrollment, facility and transportation improvements, and more student access to emotional health resources will stay on the top of priorities for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction this year.

Each lawmaking hearing is an education session, Reykdal said in a news conference Jan. 9, the start of the 105-day state legislative session.

Not every school district has access to reliable resources, he said, especially in rural areas. This is where lawmakers can support an “all hands on deck” approach that ties schools with community partners.

Reykdal has also advocated for expanding access to career and technical education, addressing students who come from low-income backgrounds and helping rural school districts get more educational resources that promote post-graduation career paths.

Lawmakers are advocating for state educational service districts to work with the OSPI and make two regional apprenticeship pilot programs. Essentially, if the bill passes in its original form, it will implement one pilot program each on the west and east side of the Cascade mountains beginning December 2026.

These pilot programs would coordinate with local school districts, state-tribal schools and stakeholders like labor unions and industry groups to develop ways for high school students — specifically in rural and smaller districts — to start a possible career in a trade or industry while still finishing their education.

Many educational service districts, which serve regional school districts, already host ways for students to become more involved with their local trades. Southwest Washington’s service district, ESD 112, developed “Flipped” internships that have offered high school students ways to begin work with local businesses, construction and apprenticeships.

Dual credit has become one focus for Reykdal, with the Legislature considering bills that would expand access to these programs by removing cost barriers for low-income students.

Students attending high schools in Cowlitz County sometimes opt into Running Start, where they can finish their high school education while also earning college credits.

One bill would also require OSPI to subsidize many expenses of certain dual-credit programs: student-voted fees, technology fees, course costs, laboratory fees and textbooks.

This would require OSPI to give each higher education institution $1,000 per full-time eligible student each academic year.

The bill would also subsidize tuition fees for eligible students enrolled in college through their high school programs, cost for taking Advanced Placement or other related tests and transcription fees for students enrolled in career and technical education courses.

Eligible students include those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and families whose income would qualify their student for the Washington state college grant.

Other bills floating through the Legislature would require districts to let students know about financial assistance and require higher education institutions to provide dual-credit enrollment at no cost for students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades.