(The Center Square) – Washington state is facing a pressing education crisis, worsened by the pandemic’s impact on student learning.
Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, has proposed legislation designed to catch students back up, by placing more tutors and paraeducators in schools.
“The number of students that are meeting grade level in math, reading and science is horrendous.” Rep. Rude told The Center Square while noting House Bill 2387 would improve student outcomes with personalized instruction with funding for temporary – three years – tutors, with a “focus on students who have fallen the furthest behind.”
The measure would adjust school funding to add, “the equivalent of two full time educators for the prototypical school size, and then a school with half as many students would receive funding for one FTE.”
The nonpartisan Washington State Institute for Public Policy came out with a report late last year that found average math and English Language Arts test scores for Washington students were lower in 2022 than average scores before the pandemic, and math scores fell more than ELA scores. The largest test score declines were among female students, students of color and low-income students.
“That report concluded that tutoring is the best way to address learning loss and so this bill is based on that report,” Rude said.
He continued, “Then the other piece is for classified staff, like paraeducators which are in huge demand but different from other bills that speak to that, districts will have flexibility to either increase pay if retention is an issue for them or they can hire additional educators.”
And the way the bill is written means it “must be used for paraeducators and tutors, meaning it’s not subject to collective bargaining.”
The bill was referred to appropriations.
“I’m not sure it will get a public hearing, but this is House Republicans saying this is the approach we would take if we were in control,” Rude noted.
As the ranking minority member of the House Education Committee, Rude has other concerns, including a bill once again offered by Democrats to ban isolation and restraint of students in public schools and educational programs.
“We pushed back hard on this last year because it completely eliminated isolation rooms, where a student can’t leave for their own safety and it can only be used if there is imminent likelihood of serious harm,” he said.
Rude went on to say, “I recently toured those where it’s a padded room where a staff person has to be there to hold the lock down [from outside] and it has a window.”
He said House Bill 1479, which is back up for debate this session, would have eliminated that, “And the only alternative for keeping a student from running away or being violent is restraint and the concern is that can lead to trauma.”
“There’s no one solution for each of these kids, but we want to give schools the opportunity to keep that last resort option if they need it,” he said.
During a House Education hearing last week, Rep. Lisa Callen, D-Issaquah, said, “The stakes are high, we are not seeing isolation and restraint in every school building, but the injuries are too high to staff and students, to the trauma and to the loss of our workforce.”
Several people, including educators, testified in support of the bill.
Kristina DeVader is a paraeducator and told lawmakers, “Challenging behaviors are not the problem, they are a signal that something is not working. When we restrain and isolate kids, we solve nothing.”
DeVader continued, “At work I’ve been punched, kicked, spat at, called names I can’t repeat here. I’ve witnessed rooms torn apart, furniture tossed and destroyed and more heartache and tears than I can say.”
“Still, I’ve never locked a kid in a room alone, isolation is banned in my district,” she said. “We educators are in the trenches but our students are not our adversaries.”
Rude and fellow Republicans support more training for staff when it comes to students with behavioral issues.
“So we can make sure they’re using best practices,” Rude said. “Isolation would not be best practice for every student, nor would restraint for some kids.”