As this year’s 3-month or “long” session of the Washington State Legislature launched last week, parent and teacher members of the Washington State PTA (WSPTA) stood ready with their list of top priorities for lawmakers.
Not surprisingly, the five issues outlined on the WSPTA agenda square with concerns raised by other advocacy organization including the statewide Alliance for gun Responsibility and the Seattle Special Education PTSA.
Key among PTA priorities is funding for a statewide special education system in crisis. And according to a report in the Seattle Times this week, many lawmakers are saying funding special education is a high priority for them as well even though other pressing issues, like addressing increasing homelessness, are competing for limited state dollars.
“There’s definitely a taste for really making special education a top priority,” said Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, the chair of the Senate’s education committee, told the Seattle Times.
During the current session of the state Legislature, the state WSPTA will push lawmakers to:
1) Address the student mental health crisis
According to the Washington Healthy Youth Survey, 20% of high-schoolers reported that they had a suicide plan in 2018 and half of those attempted suicide that year. The pandemic added additional mental health burdens that mental health advocates are still trying to quantify. That’s why the WSPTA will support policies that ensure all students have access to the behavioral and mental health resources they need to thrive. Specifically, the organization will support:
- Measures that reduce ratios of students to mental health professionals
- Programs and incentives that recruit, train, and retain mental health professionals
- Resources to assist families with children in mental health crisis
- Training and support for educators and administrators who work with kids in crisis
For more information on this topic read the WAPTA’s one page mental health priority overview.
2) Address critical gaps in education funding
WSPTA points out that K-12 education in Washington is not fully funded and that there are critical funding gaps when it comes to services for some student populations (for example homeless students), COVID recovery and other needs. The organization will advocate for legislation, policies and predictable, progressive, and sustainable revenue sources that help resolve gaps and inequities, including:
- Resources for students needing additional academic, physical and emotional supports
- Services for students with disabilities
- Categorical funding to support highly mobile students
- Student transportation
- Unfunded mandates to school districts
- School construction
For more information on this topic read the WSPTA’s one page education gaps overview.
Prevent and reduce gun violence and suicide
The statistics on the impacts of gun violence on children and youth are devastating. Nearly 150 children die by suicide (most by a firearm) in Washington each year. Each year thousands of kids are exposed to gun violence in schools in the U.S. The state PTA will support legislation or policies that prevent and reduce gun violence and suicide including:
- Addressing the disproportionate impact of gun violence on BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth
- Funding community-based programs that prevent devastating outcomes for kids and intervention programs
- Promoting safe storage of medication and firearms
- Prohibiting the sale or transfer of military-style assault weapons
For more information on this topic read the WSPTA’s one page gun violence and suicide overview.
Address funding, inclusion and supports in special education
More than 143,000 students enrolled in Washington’s K-12 public schools receive special education services, and that number is growing. Funds provided by the Individual Disability Education Act (IDEA) cover only a small percentage of the costs, and 30% of special education funding in Washington is dependent on voter-approved levies.
At the same time, Washington is only one of five states nationwide that limits special education funding by placing flat caps on enrollment in special education programs. Add to that a critical shortage in special education teachers and staff and what’s left is a special education system in crisis.
That’s why the WSPTA will advocate for legislation that:
- Fully funds special education services with no caps on funding enrollment
- Provides solutions to address the statewide special education staffing shortage
- Promotes full inclusion of special education students in general education classrooms
- Promotes high leverage teaching practices
- Assesses needs for and provides assistive technology and multi-tiered systems of support
- Simplifies the safety net reimbursement process to school districts
- Bans student isolation in schools
For more information on this topic read the WSPTA’s one page Special Education inclusion, funding and supports overview.
Build and maintain safer school facilities
According to the Washington Coastal Hazards Resilience Network, there is an 83% chance of a magnitude 6.5 or greater earthquake in Washington sometime in the next 50 years. And yet, a 2021 study by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources found that 93% of 561 schools sampled are likely to collapse during an earthquake. The statewide parent-teacher organization is pushing lawmakers to:
- Fund school safety changes, including emergency signs, improved indoor air quality and other environmental hazards, seismic upgrades, and an earthquake early warning system in all schools
- Require safety plans to include persons with disabilities and all people in school buildings, and to conduct annual emergency reunification training
- Increase the transparency of the condition of school facilities to allow public review
For more information on this topic read the WSPTA’s one page building and maintaining safer school facilities overview.
To learn how you can become involved in the advocacy efforts of the Washington State PTA, visit the Take Action page on the organization’s website. On the same page you subscribe to WSPTA’s Action Network Group, which provides timely information and action alerts on the group’s legislative platform items and what you can do to be heard.
More at Seattle’s Child:
“Children’s Alliance to Lawmakers: Kids first in 2023”
“Take action in support of Washington’s child care workforce”
“Alliance for Gun Responsibility demands big change in 2023”