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SPS discusses legislative priorities

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (JESSE TINSLEY)

Facing uncertain state funding because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spokane Public Schools nevertheless struck a hopeful tone this week as it looks ahead to the next session of the state Legislature.

During a special meeting Wednesday night with lobbyist Melissa Gombosky, board members discussed the contents of a priority list of goals for the 2021 session.

No action was taken, but the board is expected to finalize its legislative priorities next month.

At the top of the list was a request that the Legislature offer “consistent and predictable funding support for schools to ensure an equitable student experience.”

“The Legislature must protect K-12 funding and continue to honor its constitutional commitment,” the document said.

The wish list also includes protection of funding for transportation and early learning, and increased funding for social-emotional learning supports and technology – especially devices and broadband connectivity.

The draft led with a statement that “legislative action is critical to the district’s ability to respond to the emergent challenges of the moment, strengthen values and actions related to equity, and adequately plan for the future.

“We urge the Legislature to protect those investments as difficult budget decisions are made over the next biennium.”

After consulting with local lawmakers, however, Gombosky stressed that given heavy losses to state tax revenues, Spokane and other districts may need to plan for cuts.

After urging the Legislature to “protect K-12 funding and continue to honor its constitutional commitment,” the draft focused on several key areas:

• Protect school district transportation. Some state funding is based on bus ridership, which is currently almost nonexistent. The district is committed, however, to its $13.9 million contract with Durham School Services. The draft asks the Legislature “to maintain funding to keep our bus system viable enough to return to normal as soon as we are safely able to transport students to in-person learning.”

• Invest in social-emotional learning supports. The district is seeking additional funding for students who have experienced financial hardship or other “emotionally impactful family situations” during the COVID shutdowns.

• Improving technology and connectivity. The need is immediate – many families still lack internet access. The district hopes the Legislature will look at long-term solutions to “ensure there is equitable access to technology resources.”

• Invest in early learning. This is a critical issue in Spokane, where studies have shown that one-fourth of 5- and 6-year-olds are ready for kindergarten. The district is asking to “support access to early learning opportunities by increasing and enhancing the predictability of funding and offering capital resources to expand available facility space necessary for expansion.”

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