Olympia, Washington’s 2023 Legislative Session Recap: 105 days of purgatory?

By the WAESN Legislative Committee

It’s a wrap! Or is it? After a 105 day session from January 9th to April 23rd, retiring Governor, Jay Inslee, called legislators back for a special session to pass legislation near and dear to our hearts: a wealth tax, free school lunches, special education funding, and ending isolation of minors. Just kidding. Jay Inslee called back legislators to pass bills criminalizing drugs… There is a lot to unpack from this legislative session, so in this blog we are going to recap the session, what passed, what failed, and where we go from here. 

With control over the legislative and executive branches, we are one of 17 states nationwide with what political nerds call “trifectas.” Yet Washington’s Democrats failed to pass most of the crumbs of progressive legislation that WAESN followed this session. With this being their first, back-in-person session post-pandemic, lawmakers said they could finally have “thoughtful conversations” in the halls of Congress; the product of these “thoughtful conversations” is evidence that maybe working from the office actually isn’t more productive. 

If you didn’t follow along this legislative session, who would blame you? To get more involved in upcoming legislative work, please complete this form and we will reach out with opportunities to join our work. You can have zero experience. We are all self-taught and happy to share our experience with new members! 

What Crumbs did our Democratic Overlords Bestow upon Us? And How did the Far-Right respond to these Democratic “wins”? 

TLDR: Free Lunches! More SPED funding! And Assault Riffle Bans! with a side of musings regarding the role of parents vs. the government in caring for our youth.****** 

*****Before we are called out for being ungrateful, idealistic, and entitled, let’s recognize what our state legislature “accomplished” this session. The most significant education bills that passed were Inslee’s “Free Lunches” bill (HB1238) and the increase of SPED spending bill (HB1436). While both bills passed, each was watered down greatly from their original drafts. With the passing of HB1238, if you are in grades K–5 by 2025, you will receive free lunches so long as your school has at least 30% low income. The original bill called for K–12 free lunches without the classic liberal means testing of 30% low income, a standard that simply doesn’t account for student need. As we move into the short session next year, we will advocate for a full K-12 free lunch and breakfast program, as it was a program of the Black Panthers

For HB1436, which will increase the spending limit on special education from 13.5% to 15% of the total education budget, will bring an extra $417 million to special education this biennium. Legislators originally requested in earlier drafts up to 19% of the district’s budget, yet many districts have needs that are much higher, closer to 25%. Senator Rolfes is calling this the greatest increase of spending on education since the McCleary ruling, but with impending lawsuits, it’s clearly not enough to meet our basic education needs. 

The popular “victories” of Democrats this session were controversial items that enraged the right perhaps more than CRT and ethnic studies. While not education, these issues are still central to one theme: our youth. Under the banner of “Protect our Children,” Democrats and Republicans both claim to have a policy that will “save our kids” from either guns, trans, the state, their parents, or the myriad of other threats to innocence in the 21st century, TikTok. The anti-CRT godfather, Christopher Rufo, theorized in his recent video that “the left” are not just Marxists, but “Synthetic Organizers” trying to wage an ideological war using “Trans Kids” as a “totem” for a “non-Normative future” of “trans Utopia.” ****These quotes are directly from the video. He’s not fully wrong here, as both sides are using the child as a marker of “innocence” that must be protected from some dangerous dark force. In this case, guns! and trans! are those specters. But these issues are not so black and white. 

The much celebrated ban on assault rifles, HB1240, makes Washington the tenth state to ban selling assault weapons, read more here. Of course, this regulation enraged many gun rights activists on the right, especially when viewed through the framework of taking away individual rights. To add fuel to the fire, the state also passed legislation that would, according to the right-wing, empower the state to “kidnap” youth from families who denied them gender-affirming care. Democratic advocates supporting SB5599 consider this “disinformation,” as they cite that, “Under current law, licensed shelters must notify parents if a child comes into their care, unless a compelling reason applies. This legislation allows licensed shelters to contact the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in lieu of parents in certain additional instances, like when a young person is seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care.” Right-wing protesters gathered at the capitol in Olympia on April 21st for a “Protect Our Children: Stand for Parents Rights” rally, but this didn’t stop SB5599 from passing. While this bill doesn’t criminalize parents, nor does it remove children from unsupportive homes, it presents a challenge to the value that parents have full rights over their children. This question is as old as education in America. How do we respect the interest of protecting one way of life, but not at the expense of others? Parents rights vs. State rights. Who is entitled to make decisions for minors? The question of who decides what we learn and how in education should be done by all, not the few of us, not with mono-cultural puritanism or multicultural neoliberalism, but with a collective and democratic approach focused on justice and a vision for the people we want to become. The words of Emma Goldman in 1916 seem relevant here: 

The two-legged animals called parents lack both. Hence, they make their children pay for the outrage perpetrated upon them by their parents–which only goes to prove that it takes centuries of enlightenment to undo the harm wrought by traditions and habits. According to these traditions, “innocence” has become synonymous with “ignorance”; ignorance is indeed considered the highest virtue, and represents the “triumph” of puritanism. But in reality, these traditions represent the crimes of puritanism, and have resulted in irreparable internal and external suffering to the child and youth. 

While we might not call parents “two-legged animals” like Emma Goldman, there is a more nuanced position to take when it comes to answering the two fundamental questions we are at war over: “What should we learn?” and “How do youth learn best?” The phrase, “it takes a village,” comes to mind. While waving the banners of “Protect our Children,” both Democrats and Republicans are failing to keep kids safe in our schools, not only from guns, but from the injustices of punitive practices, white supremacist curriculum, and the inequity of our education funding. Parents, education experts, community members, and youth should all be involved in determining how we answer these questions, but our legislature, as you will see in this next section, doesn’t know how to envision a process to mediate our current crisis in education. 

Because it takes a village, we invite you to attend our upcoming Legislative Recap, where we will discuss not only what happened this session, but also invite our community to begin envisioning the next steps in our legislative advocacy work. To join us, register here

Far Right-wing Legislation: a loud but unsuccessful campaign

WAESN began its focus this session following right-wing attacks on public education policy, namely Republican Representative from the 19th District, Jim McCune, and his Conservative Ladies of Washington backed “Parents’ Education Bill of Rights,” which we analyzed in a previous blog post. While only a greatly watered-down piece of the original legislation made it to a hearing (the first step after being read by the Education Committee), his bill SB5558 didn’t make it out of the Education Committee (the second step before being considered by the full House of Representatives). A small victory for teachers’ email boxes and mental health, as this bill would have put teachers under greater scrutiny from parents without a clear process of arbitrating and navigating curriculum/parent conflicts. We need a system of transparency and family involvement in our education system, but we do not need to rush to create a system of accountability that lays the onus on individuals, teachers or parents. If you are an educator or parent, fill out this survey to tell us more about your experience navigating curriculum conflicts.  

During our WAESN Organizing Assembly in late April, we unpacked what we learned from following right-wing organizing efforts in education. While their legislation failed overwhelmingly, their voices are loud, their organizing is well-funded, and their rhetoric shapes corporate Democratic thinking and policy. Washington’s chapter of Conservative Ladies of Washington, much like Moms for Liberty (recently named a hate group by SPLC), who organize nationally, are active in many different committees. Alongside the think tank-like groups, “Family Policy Institute” and “Washington Policy Center,” these groups make up the brains and brawn of right-wing organizing in Washington state. Nationwide, there are other groups like Moms of Liberty, that have a strong presence in many School Board races. From gun rights, trans issues, education, taxes, to drugs, these moms (and now dads, so inclusive!) are actively organizing a powerful group of ultra-conservative community members. Locally, they provide training, education, social events, wine hours, legislative reports, question and answers with legislators, Facebook groups and forums, and paid memberships with added benefits we can only dream of! Check out “Washingon Parents Rights in Education” facebook group for the best example of their active digital organizing platform. The efforts of right-wing groups is neither to be focused on, nor dismissed, as their organizing efforts have demonstrably created an environment in which Democratic legislators acquiesce to their far-right, Euro-centric positions. 

Democratic “Progressive” Legislation they couldn’t even pass:

There are a number of bills that we were in tepid support of that didn’t pass this legislative session. We testified, provided some education on our Instagram, and mobilized our community members to sign in pro to some of the following bills. We will keep some of these short, as we have varying degrees of involvement in each piece of legislation. 

SB5019: School Safety Staff

This bill would have closed a loophole that allowed for money meant to go towards counselors to go to cops. The Democrats love cops in schools and fail to ensure enough mental health services. 

SB5441: School District Curricula

This bill was developed by LYAC, a program that has been active since at least 2008, that serves as the official nonpartisan 14-17 year old youth advisory body to the state legislature. LYAC consulted with WAESN in the language of SB5441, and while we made suggestions, we also considered the bill to not go far enough to include community organizations, provide proper teacher training, and clear expectations and funding for the proposed new role of a “regional inclusive curricula coordinator.” Part of the bill was dealing with the question of what to do with two related issues: 1) formalizing a process to navigate parents’ complaints about curricula (from both sides) and 2) establishing an “inclusivity” framework through which to assess and screen curriculum content. In other words, this bill would have created a position to establish new standards, a mechanism to regulate classroom curriculum, and a system to maintain family communication. If that wasn’t enough, they would have to also develop an “open” resource database for pre-screened materials. The scope and breadth of this work is enormous, and the bill enshrines each district’s school board individual responsibility for this work. To measure the proficiency of each districts’ “inclusivity screening,” the districts must provide criteria, a rubric, and scores for superintendents, classified staff, certified staff, and all staff related to curriculum. This bill’s scope was too big for one new role district-wide, without a clear plan for family and community engagement. The bill also mentions that these new “inclusivity” standards would align with “best practices” of ethnic studies according to OSPI, but OSPI has all but shut down their ethnic studies work and the legislature has all but shut us down. We would love nothing more than a process to formalize this work, and we will be working in the legislative committee to develop a revised policy proposal on this important issue in the coming months. 

HB1377: Continuing Education K–12

This related bill tried to amend an issue of previous legislation (HB1426) of Education Chair Rep. Tomiko Santos’ to limit who could be considered a clock hour provider. The bill would give the Professional Educators Standards Board (PESB) the responsibility for establishing standards for who is a certified clock hour provider in order to fix the exclusionary policy. You might ask, why is it a problem to leave this discretion to the very board that is responsible for establishing these standards, but our experience at WAESN can speak to the volatility of OSPI, who currently manages clock hour providers. WAESN was removed, without notice, process, or communication from OSPI’s ethnic studies professional development providers list after a complaint that our organization is “too political.” This brings up the questions: what is allowed by our professional standards board? What is considered political? What do we do with complaints from families and communities? 

In this video our Legislative Committee testified: 1377 Testimony

We see a lot of hope in developing legislation around regulating clock hour providers. We have a lot of ideas to include community partners, families, and youth in the important work of collectively determining the fundamental questions of, “What is worth knowing?” and, “How do our youth learn best?” 

HB1479: Student Restraint and Isolation

We didn’t work closely on this bill, but many did. There was a lot of community organizing and support for this bill including the ACLU, TeamChild, OSPI’s Crisis Response Workgroup, PTAS, disability activists, youth activists, and other organizations. Testimonies were incredibly emotional during the session and are worth watching to understand the horrific practices at our schools. To learn more about this legislation, check out this Cross Cut article, TeamChild’s Call to Action, and League of Education Voter’s video discussion. We look forward to partnering with community partners on future legislation, so reach out to us! 

HB1432: Juvenile Justice

Organizers from Stand for Children Washington (SCW) and the Center for Children and Youth Justice (CCYJ) led advocacy for this important legislation, which would simply reduce the imposition of a cycle of poverty and debt for youth who are trying to reintegrate after incarceration. Like HB1479, this isn’t our main focus at WAESN, but we are excited to partner with these organizations to mobilize stronger action in the upcoming session for updated versions of these bills. For more information, check out CCYJ

HB5616: Nothing About Us Without Us

This bill would have enshrined that all special committees created by legislation relating to identity-specific issues must include representatives of that population. It was called: “Nothing About Us Without Us,” a Latin classic slogan of democracy: Nihil de nobis, sine nobis. This bill, no surprise, did not pass, despite already being a de facto practice in many existing committees and boards, such as PESB. This legislation would not have gone far enough to ensure that identity representation leads to ideological representation. As Obama showed us, skin folk are not always kinfolk. Representation is step one, redistribution must come alongside it. Speaking of redistribution…

HB5486: Wealth and Property Tax

A tiny 1% tax on wealth (not income) of Washingtonians greater than $250 million, which would impact somewhere between 300-700 Washingtonians failed. One woman testified she was sick and tired of seeing palms out. The delusion that this tax would ever impact those who testified was terrifying. Here is our Legislative Committee testifying on the bill: HB5486 Testimony

SB 5486 had a companion bill in the house, HB 1473, a technique to increase the likelihood of legislation passing both houses. Republicans and corporate Democrats used the rhetoric of “capital flight” over and over again, suggesting that this legislation would lead to mega-job creators to flee the state to evade taxes. We call that tax evasion, but it’s a free country. In order to combat tax evasion, over 8 states were running legislation to implement a wealth tax. These states represent 60% of the US’s wealth and are Democratically controlled. This is important to consider when business interests and liberal Democrats fearmonger that billionaires will leave Washington state if we pass this legislation. It seems like  “billionaire flight,” the elite form of “white flight” is a large concern of Democrats, despite their repeated virtue signaling to tax the rich.

SB5486 would have provided $3 billion in new revenue, one third of which would have gone to the general education trust. $1 billion dollars is a 3% increase in yearly state funds for our education budget. That is not enough in the first place, but this bill didn’t even pass. We will be pushing more wealth taxes connected to education spending, as this state faces increased pressure from pending lawsuits that echo the troubles of the McCleary era underfunding.  

In late May, it was reported that the recent Washington State Supreme Court approved capital gains tax brought in $849 million in revenue. Progressive “experts” predicted it only to bring in $248 million. This shows billionaires and ultra-millionaires are worth more than we expected, hoarding billions of exorbitant profit. While businesses and “soon-to-have” American dreamers might protest this tax as wage theft, it feels more like a very minor victory of economic justice, of redistribution. 

Next Steps: Join us for our Legislative Recap on June 9th

We did a lot of losing this session, but we also did a lot of learning. We know where these bills died, we know who chairs these committees, so we can begin the work of identifying chair members and articulating our policy positions. But in order to do that, we need you! 

Next month, WAESN’s legislative team will be hosting a Legislative Recap, where we invite our community members to come and discuss our ideas for not only coming up with policy, but strategies for pushing this legislation next session. 

If you read this far, don’t be afraid to sign up, watch, listen, ask questions, or share your voice.

Join us, July 9, 2023, 11am – 1pm on Zoom. REGISTER HERE.


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