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Washington Legislature advances school bills

Sat., Feb. 15, 2014

OLYMPIA – Washington schools would be required to protect students against emotional bullying, keep more data on homeless students and test whether extra days would help students retain more from one year to the next under bills that advanced in the Legislature on Friday. 

On a 45-1 vote, the Senate passed a bill that added emotional harassment to the type of action schools should monitor to prevent bullying. It also requires school compliance officers to have regular training on the best ways to spot and deal with that behavior.

“Our kids deserve to be safe at school no matter who they are,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, the sponsor of  Senate Bill 6439.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, voted no, saying the bill has good intentions but doesn’t back them up with money. “There’s a mandate here, and there’s no appropriation.”

On a 47-2 vote, the Senate also passed a bill to set up a pilot program at 10 schools with high numbers of low-income students that would allow them to add 20 classroom days in the summer. Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said  Senate Bill 6163 would help one of the biggest challenges to success for some children by combating summer learning loss between the end of one school year and the start of the next.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said she supports the bill but doesn’t think it does enough to recognize the responsibility of parents in improving students’ performance. “Every education bill we pass should include outreach to parents,” she said.

Both bills were sent to the House for hearings.

The House, meanwhile, gave strong support to a bill that requires schools to send state officials more information about their homeless students, including numbers of those students who drop out of junior high and high school. It also encourages schools to give staff more training on providing help for homeless students.

Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, sponsor of  House Bill 2373, said the bill was a way to show homeless students they have value, and the state hopes they will contribute to their communities when they grow up. Legislators said the state has an estimated 27,000 homeless students in its public schools, and half are 10 years old or younger. The bill was sent to the Senate on a 92-4 vote.

It was the second Parker bill dealing with homelessness the House sent to the Senate this week.  House Bill 2415 would allow homeless people to get temporary ID cards so they can apply for work. Parker said the bill could help fight a vicious cycle for people who are homeless because they lose a job and can’t apply for work because they don’t have a physical address.

The idea came from homeless people who attended a town hall meeting with Parker in Spokane, and it was helped, he said, by a later  column by Shawn Vestal in The Spokesman-Review.

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