What changes could come to Washington’s public schools in 2020? These bills offer a sneak peek

By Neal Morton

The Seattle Times

State lawmakers don’t return to Olympia until later this month, but they spent the final weeks of 2019 filing early versions of bills they hope to advance during this year’s short legislative session.

The total list of pre-filed bills — more than 200 as of Friday — doesn’t represent the entirety of the Legislature’s priorities ahead of its 60-day session, which likely will focus on making tweaks to the biennial budget adopted last year. Still, the proposed legislation offers a preview of what changes, if any, lawmakers want to make to K-12 spending and policy, for this or next year.

Here’s a short list of some of the bills related to public schools that may be up for debate when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 13:

Volunteers in schools: House Bill 2220

In 2016, lawmakers unanimously approved legislation that allowed people with criminal records access to occupational licenses that they previously were barred from obtaining.

Now, Rep. Laurie Dolan wants the Legislature to consider broadening that pathway to parents whose criminal records prevent them from volunteering in their children’s schools.

“Little kids need their parents as part of their education, and these parents who served their time deserve every opportunity to be that parent,” Dolan, D-Olympia, said of HB 2220.

The proposal would retain exceptions included in the 2016 bill, meaning parents who have been convicted of a class A felony, sex offense, crime with sexual motivation, extortion, drive-by shooting or luring would not be eligible for what’s known as a certificate of restoration of opportunity.

Dolan sponsored a similar bill late in last year’s legislative session, but said she hopes HB 2220 to make more progress this year.

“I’m guessing we will run across a little opposition,” she said. “The more we can explain the safety features of this bill and how it important it is to have parents in the classroom, the better this bill will do.”

Free feminine-hygiene products in school: Senate Bill 6073

Late last fall, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, visited a social studies class at Lake Washington High School.

There, she heard a presentation from six students about why school districts should provide feminine-hygiene products at no cost to students in middle and high school. And that presentation inspired Dhingra to file SB 6073.

“Without menstrual products, nearly 1 in 5 American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely,” Dhingra said, citing some of the students’ research.

Already, states like California, Illinois, New Hampshire and New York require schools to provide free tampons and other menstrual products for students. SB 6073, which has bipartisan support from 18 co-sponsors, would do the same in Washington. But Dhingra noted the legislation wouldn’t attach new money for schools to pay for the products.

“It is an unfunded mandate,” she said.

“Just having feminine-hygiene products available to young girls helps them stay in schools, helps them focus (and) helps them with their education,” Dhingra added. “This is something that should have been done years ago.”

Expanding dual-credit access: House Bill 2233

Across Washington, more than 250 schools offer the College in the High School program, which allows students in grades 10-12 to take college courses — and potentially earn college credit — on a high school campus.

Nearly 35,500 students enroll in the program, and state Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, wants to expand that opportunity to ninth graders with HB 2233. The bill would require school districts that offer College in the High School to start providing information about the program to students and families during the eighth grade.

Separately, state schools chief Chris Reykdal plans to ask lawmakers to make all dual-credit programs, including College in the High School, free for every student. Reykdal’s office recently estimated that families pay about $59 million for participation in dual-credit programs.

Early ethnic studies: Senate Bill 6066

Last year, lawmakers passed legislation that requires Reykdal’s office to find and distribute materials for schools to use for ethnic studies in grades 7-12.

The state superintendent’s office has until September to make those materials available for schools, and Sen. Bob Hasegawa, a Democrat from Seattle, now wants to extend that deadline by a year and include kindergarten through the sixth grade.

Similar to last year’s legislation, SB 6066 wouldn’t require schools to teach ethnic studies but would encourage them to use the materials and resources provided by Rekydal’s office.

Restricting gendered sports competitions: House Bill 2201

State Rep. Brad Klippert, a Republican from Kennewick, filed this proposed legislation after a constituent sent him articles about transgender women competing — and sometimes winning — in women’s sports.

Klippert acknowledged he hasn’t heard of that happening in Washington schools. But HB 2201 would prohibit “students whose sex assigned at birth was male” — regardless of their current identity — from participating in individual competition sports intended for female students.

“It’s probably more preemptive than anything else,” Klippert said.

The recent accomplishments of transgender athletes, particularly transgender women, have prompted some critics to oppose what they view as an unfair advantage in sports for cisgendered girls and women. But as LGBTQ sports advocate Helen Carroll told Wired magazine, sports can offer a lifeline for transgender people, and transgender adolescents report disproportionately higher suicide attempts than their cisgender peers.

“They’ve been fighting themselves and feeling like they were in the wrong body, and sport gives them a place to be happy about their body and what it can do,” Carroll said.