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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Warm Thanksgiving wishes to you and your loved ones! Situated in the heart of Washington state, our region, adorned with rich autumn colors, sets the stage for joyous family gatherings. Whether strolling along the Columbia River or exploring our vibrant local parks, the 8th Legislative District offers a delightful combination of natural beauty and a welcoming community.

As your legislative representative, I am committed to preserving our unique way of life, fostering a strong local economy, advocating for the growth of our energy sector, enhancing public safety, and championing improvements in our schools.

In this update, I’d like to turn your attention to K-12 education, discussing its current status and sharing my thoughts on how the Legislature can work towards meaningful enhancements for our students and schools.

Lewis and Clark Elementary School visit in Richland, Washington, on November 7, conducted as part of the Communities in Schools (CIS) program.

As we approach the upcoming session, scheduled to begin on Monday, Jan. 8, and end on Thursday, March 7, my focus has been on preparation for the tasks awaiting us in Olympia. A crucial aspect of this preparation has been meeting with local school officials, as well as students and their families, to explore ways we can enhance the educational experience for our children.

Washington state revenue contributes, in part, to the education of over a million students across 295 school districts and 16 charter schools. Serving as one of the state’s largest employers, the K-12 educational system boasts more than 74,000 certified instructors, 5,000 administrators, and 44,000 classified employees.

In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in state spending on K-12 education. The total funding for the 2021-23 period, sourced from state, local, and federal channels, reached $37.46 billion. Washington’s per-student spending, averaging $17,428, positions the state among the highest in the nation. In fact, we currently hold the top spot as the best state for teachers because of our competitive salaries and compensation.

Despite the augmented funding, a considerable number of students are falling behind. National test scores have experienced a decade-long decline, exacerbated by the aftermath of COVID-induced school closures, resulting in state test scores reaching their lowest point since the assessments’ inception. Shockingly, over 62% of K-12 students fall below minimum grade-level standards in math, while approximately 50% do not meet the minimum grade-level standards in English.

Recognizing the urgent need for improvements, in the 2023 legislative session, I supported three pivotal bills aimed at enhancing the quality of K-12 education. Unfortunately, two of the bills did not advance through the legislative process:

  • The first, HB 1328, aimed to address learning loss by establishing a temporary program to elevate math and reading scores, prioritizing funding for low-income districts.
  • The second, HB 1615, proposed the Students First Program, supporting education savings accounts for students with unmet needs in the public school system, particularly those in low-income or failing schools and eligible for special education.

Despite these setbacks, we had a notable success with HB 1210, a Republican-sponsored bill requiring the recording of all school district board meetings. This bill, signed into law in late June, ensures transparency by preserving recordings for at least one year and making them accessible to the public.

Over the past several months, I’ve had the privilege of engaging in meaningful conversations with students, parents, educators, and community leaders, seeking insights into how we can enhance our educational system. Outlined below are some key issues we discussed:

  • Performance: The prolonged COVID-19 school closures significantly affected Washington’s students, leading to learning gaps. It is imperative that we redouble efforts to support learning recovery through targeted interventions, additional tutoring, and summer programs, with the goal of ensuring every student can catch up and thrive academically.
  • Support for parents and families: Facilitating easy access for parents to information about their children’s educational progress, homework, and other activities through digital platforms and regular communication is essential. We must eliminate barriers hindering parental involvement, particularly in underserved communities, and support programs encouraging active parental engagement in their children’s education.
  • Mental health and well-being: Prioritizing the mental health and well-being of our students is paramount. Continued strengthening of mental health support services is necessary, ensuring students have access to counseling and resources to cope with the challenges they face.
  • Transparency: Maintaining open lines of communication with parents and students is crucial. Transparency, achieved through providing clear and readily accessible information about curriculum, grading policies, teacher qualifications, and school performance, empowers parents and families to make informed decisions and holds schools accountable for their performance.

My commitment remains steadfast. I am determined to advocate for enhancements in K-12 education, revisiting crucial areas and exploring additional improvements in the weeks ahead. As new bill proposals emerge throughout December and January, I will keep you informed about vital details and policies that have the potential to benefit our students. Expect more updates in the weeks and months to follow.

In the coming months, I invite you to join me in this effort. Attend your local school board meetings, stay informed about educational policies, and share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas for improvement with me. Let’s work hand in hand to champion change and ensure our children receive the quality education they truly deserve!

Opportunity Awaits: Apply Now for the House Page Program!

The Washington State House of Representatives Page Program opened for applications on November 1, presenting an incredible opportunity you won’t want to miss! Having witnessed the remarkable enthusiasm from our local students in 2023, I expect the same level of excitement in 2024.

Student pages spend a week assisting House members with various tasks—from experiencing the chamber floor to making deliveries across campus, supporting member offices, and engaging in Page School. Their role is crucial in keeping the gears turning smoothly in the world of lawmaking.

  • Eligibility is open to students aged 14 to just before their 17th birthday.
  • Pages receive a stipend of $65 per day and can accrue up to 20 hours of community service.
  • If costs pose a challenge, there’s the Gina Grant Bull Memorial Legislative Page Scholarship available to ease the financial burden.

Don’t miss out! If you know a student who would benefit from this program, please pass on this message. It’s an incredible chance to contribute, absorb knowledge, and genuinely make a positive impact.

Thank you for your ongoing trust and support. Your thoughts, concerns, and ideas are invaluable in shaping decisions made in Olympia. Reach out with any questions, comments, or feedback you may have.

As we all enjoy Thanksgiving tomorrow, I’d like to extend my heartfelt wishes for a joyous celebration for you and your loved ones.

Sincerely,


Stephanie Barnard

State Representative Stephanie Barnard, 8th Legislative District
representativestephaniebarnard.com
469 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
stephanie.barnard@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7986 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000