Moving forward to support students and education: 2023 session wrap-up
Our unity and advocacy continues to make a difference and when the gavel fell to close the 2023 session last night, we had a lot to celebrate along with some priorities to continue working on into the 2024 session.
Special Education Funding
- Most notably, we won $ 371 million in additional funding for Special Education supports. It was a huge, sustained effort by WEA members and fellow public education advocates that won the Senate’s proposed level of funding which was higher than the House’s or Governor’s proposal. We recognize this covers just about 35-40% of the current Special Education funding gap but it’s an important down payment toward full funding.
- Lawmakers increased the cap from funding no more than 13.5% of a district’s students for Special Education to 15%. We continue to advocate for eliminating the cap, but this is a step in the right direction.
Cost of living adjustments
- K-12: Up until now, we had to advocate for corrections to K-12 COLA levels each year when actual inflation outpaced legislative estimates. In this session we helped pass legislation that sets the 2023 K-12 COLA at 3.7% for 2023-24 and then starting in 2024-25 automatically sets the COLA at the prior calendar year’s Implicit Price Deflator (IPD), a measure of inflation.
- Higher education: We secured 100% funding for Community and Technical College wages, including I-732 COLAs. For 4 year institutions, COLAs are set at 4% and 3% based on the state employee collective bargaining agreement. For CTCs, it’s set at the prior calendar year’s Seattle CPI, 8.9% and 5.9%.
- Retirees: The Plan 1 COLA is funded for a 3% increase, capped at $110/month. Medicare-eligible retirees’ health care subsidy remains at $183/month.
Regionalization and experience mix
- The legislature made changes to the regionalization and the experience mix factors of some districts in this first scheduled salary rebase. Some districts will receive additional state funding and some will receive less based on how experienced their workforce is and the cost of housing in their area.
- Any districts with increases will receive the new funding associated with these changes starting in the 2023-24 school year. Any districts with factors that were lower than their current regionalization or experience mix will see those changes phased in over the next two years.
- These were hard discussions this year and we are glad that the legislature at least found a way to ease into those changes. There are ongoing discussions on these topics which could spur future legislative action.
Other education priorities
- Expanding free K-12 student meals: The state will now provide free meals to 600,000 of our 1,100,000 public school students. In the budget, school meals received an additional $59 million to back fill earlier expansions. We made a step in the right direction and we’re committed to continue advocating until every student has access to school meals.
- Increased recess: Education advocates worked together to win a minimum of 30 minutes of recess for every elementary public school student in Washington.
- Professional development around student behavior interventions: WEA had advocated for increased funding to train educators in options for student de-escalation to reduce the use of isolation and restraint. The new biennial budget includes $2.7 million for professional development prioritized for primary grades with high rates of isolation, restraint, room clears and/or injuries and $2 million for 10 demonstration site grants for districts that want to proactively work to phase out the use of isolation and restraint.
- Equity in highly capable programs: We passed a bill that requires universal screening for highly capable programs, allowing more access to the programs.
- Workplace health and safety: We passed a new law that allows L&I to set and enforce ergonomic protection standards to reduce repetitive motion and other injuries at work.
- Union strength: Labor allies worked together to pass a law that requires public entities to share employee contact information with their union. This will improve communication between members and their organization.
- Privileged communication between employees and union reps: Union members now have privileged protections for communications sent about union business, meaning with very few exceptions when a union member shares information, it is not discoverable.
These are notable wins and important investments in our students. They also get us only part of the way toward our vision of Special Education funding, competitive and respectful wages, and meal access, not to mention other priorities. We are already talking with lawmakers about the need next session to address Education Support Professional raises and funding for Special Education and our whole public education system. We need to continue strengthening WEA-PAC and our union, voting, speaking out, and uniting for our students. We are stronger together!