Sine Die: Early Wins & Policy Highlights from 2018 Legislative Sessions
April 6, 2018

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

At last count, more than 10 states had already wrapped up their regular legislative sessions for 2018. From Olympia to Tallahassee, champions for kids are celebrating this session’s successes and reflecting on the challenges they faced.

Earlier this year, we conducted our annual pulse check on advocate priorities. Leaders across the Network shared plans for several key policy areas, and we noted an important caveat:

sometimes a year spent successfully playing defense is actually a big win.

As we wait for the dust to settle in more state capitols across the country, we asked advocates in Florida, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington to share initial insights into the most important issues they tackled this year—plus details on notable legislation that may be of interest to advocates in other states.

Washington

As this year’s session wrapped up, Washington advocates celebrated successes including expanded eligibility for early learning and college financial aid, increased funds for special education and the State Need Grant, and raised awareness of social-emotional and mental health needs.

According to Daniel Zavala, director of policy and government relations at the League of Education Voters, many had expected a relatively quiet session due to budget constraints. However, follow-ups to 2007’s McCleary lawsuit and a better-than-expected revenue forecast ensured that education funding issues stayed top of mind. Senate Bill 6362 addressed issues including compensation, local levies, and categorical problems, but Zavala predicts that the legislature will need to reexamine many of these piecemeal policies next year.  

“McCleary may finally be past us, but the movement toward equitable and student-centered education solutions is full steam ahead,” Zavala said.

Find further details in the League of Education Voters’ progress analysis.

Legislation Spotlight: Zavala describes SB 6362 as “McClearly 2.0,” a reference to the 2007 education funding lawsuit based on the inequities across districts resulting from disproportionate use and allocation of local levy money. Catch up on the McCleary saga here.

Florida

The Foundation for Florida’s Future‘s key accomplishments this year centered around issues of school choice, many of which were included in the omnibus K-12 education bill. House Bill 7055 established two new programs: the Hope Scholarship program, a tax credit scholarship that will support students who have been bullied or harassed in transferring to safer public or private schools; and the Reading Scholarship Account program, a first-of-its-kind intervention program that will reimburse the families of struggling readers up to $500 for reading instruction/tutoring expenses, with a priority on serving English language learners.

Additionally, HB 7055 opens an additional funding source for Florida’s education scholarship accounts (ESA) program, improves accountability and transparency in Florida’s private school choice scholarship programs, and strengthens autonomy for public charter schools.

Gov. Rick Scott also signed Florida’s 2018-19 budget, which includes significant funding increases for ESAs, the charter school capital outlay, and mental health assistance in schools.

The Foundation for Florida’s Future is supported by the Foundation for Excellence in Education; ExcelinEd works in Florida and other states to advance student-centered education systems.

“The foundation for our success in 2018 was built on partnerships, both in the advocacy space and with the legislators themselves,” J. Alex Kelly, vice president of advocacy for the Foundation for Excellence in Education said.  “Our team supported nearly 70 bills this year, well beyond our priority list, so that we always had a deep coalition of partners and lawmakers knowing that we all supported each other’s priorities just as much as our own priorities.”

Click here for additional updates from Florida’s legislative session.

Legislation Spotlight:  House Bill 1279 greatly improves the transparency of funding that actually reaches Florida’s classrooms, including a requirement that the state develop a web-based tool that identifies public schools and districts that produce high academic achievement based on the ratio of classroom expenditures to total expenditures.

Oregon

Stand for Children Oregon checked this session’s top legislative priority off their list, thanks to the unanimous passage of the Accelerated Learning Bill (House Bill 4053). This bill will require public colleges and universities to report on credit transferability among a representative sample of high school graduates who complete accelerated learning opportunities.

“HB 4053 is an important step that will help our state better understand how, and to what degree, the issue of credit transferability impacts our students,” Parasa Chanramy, policy & advocacy manager for Stand for Children Oregon, stated. “Our work will not stop at this bill. Our hope is that this bill will continue to help frame future policymaking and implementation considerations so that more and more students have access to, and excel in, our colleges and universities across Oregon.”

Other key wins included Senate Bill 1563, which protects tuition equity for Oregon students who are DREAMers or DACA recipients; and House Bill 4012, which makes it easier for districts to hire experienced, high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE) educators.

Legislation Spotlight: Oregon invests heavily in accelerated learning programs to help more students access college level opportunities while in high school. Unfortunately, after completing accelerated learning courses, high school graduates face inconsistent, unclear systems and policies when transferring these credits to public colleges and universities. HB 4053 helps increase transparency around the transferability of college credit earned so that Oregon can continue to improve the transition from high school to higher education.

Georgia

In the Peach State, GeorgiaCAN reports that they worked with partners to achieve three key wins: restoring funding for low-income students to take Advanced Placement (AP) exams, nearly doubling the student scholarship tax credit program, and increasing statewide charter school funding by $18 million.

Additionally, advocates celebrated a budget agreement that will end austerity cuts and fully fund the state’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula. GeorgiaCAN executive director Michael O’Sullivan said he hopes this decision can serve as a springboard to further address the need for a student-centered funding model.

“While we are thrilled the formula will be fully funded and offer our sincere congratulations to the leaders who made this happen, we should not lose sight of the urgent need to reform our approach to educational investments on the whole,” O’Sullivan said.

Legislation Spotlight: In addition to increasing charter school funding across the state, HB 787 also establishes a new funding formula that brings charter schools closer to achieving funding equity as compared to surrounding traditional public schools.

As legislative sessions continue to wrap up, we look forward to learning and sharing more about state advocates’ work through our annual Member Advocacy and Policy (MAP) Survey. Members can explore details on past initiatives here.

 


Christina Dobratz

Christina is PIE Network's Project Manager, Communications  


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