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News / Northwest

From controversial to life-saving, these WA school bills are headed to Inslee to sign

By Eric Rosane, Tri-City Herald
Published: March 11, 2024, 7:38am

KENNEWICK — Washington lawmakers had a laundry list of K-12 public education priorities when they opened for the 2024 legislative session on Jan. 8.

And while they didn’t get around to everything this 60-day session, the Legislature still made progress.

The state updated its match formula for new school construction, which is expected to add an additional $103 per square foot for school districts that pass local bond measures. It’s the first significant increase to the allocation in the history of the program.

For the second consecutive session, lawmakers passed a cap increase on special education funding. The cap increased a point up to 16% of school populations, likely to bring in millions more in state dollars for local special education programs and services.

“This session, the Legislature made meaningful progress for our students across many critical areas,” Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal said in a statement. “Through their final budgets, the Legislature has made clear their commitment to sustaining evidence-based investments in student learning and well-being that are targeted to having the greatest impact.”

Here are some key education-related bills headed to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature. In most cases, bills take effect three months after they’re signed into law.

Inclusive materials

Two bills in particular caught the ire of conservative Washington school boards this session, both passing on party-line votes in the state House and Senate.

The first, Engrossed Senate Bill 5462, requires the inclusion of histories, contributions and perspectives of gay and queer people in age-appropriate school curricula after a review of learning standards by OSPI and the state LGBTQ Commission.

It also directs the Washington State School Directors’ Association to draft policy for school boards to adopt instructional materials covering such groups as Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, people of different religions and immigrants.

School districts, charter schools and state-tribal compact schools would be required to adopt practices that align with this bill by Oct. 1, 2025, if signed into law.

“The contributions of gay Washingtonians deserve recognition, and just as importantly, students deserve to see themselves in their schoolwork. That leads to better attendance, better academic achievement and better overall quality of life,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said in a January statement.

Book bans

The second bill strongly opposed by conservatives, Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2331, introduced by Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, would bar school boards from discriminating against and banning books or materials on the basis that they include the contributions of people from a protected class.

Republicans and conservatives have lambasted the bills, saying they erode the rights of parents to pick and choose what their children learn in the classroom, while Democrats have said these bills would uplift and protect the stories and histories of historically marginalized groups.

A few school boards in recent weeks passed resolutions against the bills, most prominently the Kennewick School Board, which wrote that the bills were peddled by “activist state commissions pushing sexual agendas and politics and subverting the vote of the local community.”

Zero-emission buses

Engrossed Second Substitute Bill 1368 will help school districts get students onto brand new, zero-emission school buses and start the state on a path to phase out their fossil fueled counterparts.

If signed into law, the bill would create a grant program for districts to buy electric or hydrogen fuel cell buses, and install the necessary infrastructure. Funds awarded would be prioritized to school districts overburdened with air pollution and with buses manufactured before 2007.

In most cases, these buses will reduce fuel, operations and maintenance costs for school districts. Democratic lawmakers, including bill sponsor, Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, argued it will keep students healthy and prevent them from breathing in carbon emissions.

The bill also requires OSPI, with help from the Department of Ecology, to survey school districts, charter schools and state-tribal education compact schools on the cost and maintenance of owning zero-emission buses.

It also requires, with few exceptions, new school buses be zero emission emitting once it’s determined that the total cost of ownership is lower than that of diesel buses. But no specific timeline is given.

About 8,000 school buses are on the road every day, OSPI tells the Tri-City Herald.

Richard Lenhart Act

The Washington Legislature this week passed the Richard Lenhart Act, making it a gross misdemeanor to trespass on a school bus.

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5891 is named for Dick Lenhart, the 72-year-old Pasco bus driver stabbed to death by a stranger in front of 35 students outside Longfellow Elementary in 2021. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick.

Washington would be the ninth state in the U.S. with a similar law.

A previous version of this bill would have made it a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine, for those arrested of bus trespassing.

Dual Language funding

A grant program could be established to expand dual language and tribal language learning programs.

Third Substitute House Bill 1228, sponsored by Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, lays the groundwork for expanding and establishing two-way dual language programs in every school district by 2040 with the goal of sustaining a bi-literate workforce statewide.

It builds off previous investments by awarding new money to school districts and state-tribal schools to establish new dual language programs that begin in kindergarten or to expand an established program. It prioritizes schools in the educational opportunity gap and with more than 50% students of color.

About 141 schools offer dual language programs, according to the Seattle Times. Of those, 122 teach Spanish. Pasco School District is the largest provider of dual language programs in the state, with 2,200 students enrolled in two-way Spanish-English or Russian-English classes.

The Legislature plans to annually fund 10 new dual language education programs with an average award of about $40,000.

The bill also establishes the “Office of Native Education” within OSPI that will be responsible for establishing and expanding tribal language programs.

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Opioid reversal medication in all schools

Substitute Senate Bill 5804 would require at least one set of opioid overdose reversal medication doses in every public school in Washington.

Currently, only the largest high schools must carry the lifesaving medication. High schools are allowed to obtain, maintain and order the medicine. Only school nurses, health care professionals and trained school personnel can administer it.

The bill also encourages public schools to carry them in first-aid kits, and install a public map showing their location.

Another bill that also passed the Legislature this session would require OSPI to make available substance use prevention and awareness materials for schools to address fentanyl and other substances. Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1956 would also add opioids to the list of drugs included in drug-related health and P.E. standards.

Bleed control equipment

Starting the 2026-27 school year, all public school campuses will be required to make available bleeding control equipment to staff and volunteers.

Under Engrossed Senate Bill 5790, these kits must include an approved tourniquet, compression bandage and other materials and documents detailing how to prevent blood loss during physically traumatic events.

Two employees in each school will have to undergo additional training on how to use the equipment. If a school has more than 1,000 students, it must have one trained employee per 500 students.