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Washington schools superintendent wants more funding to support students

The Legislature resolved the McCleary issue on funding basic education in the past couple of sessions. Now, the state school’s chief says it’s time for lawmakers to focus on all the other important student needs.

With the start of the next Legislative session just a few months away, State schools superintendent Chris Reykdal has released his priority asks for lawmakers.

“Well they definitely have a theme this year, as we begin to make that big shift to support services for students, so you see funding there for students with disabilities, school safety, dyslexia screening. The big pieces of this are very much about student populations that are disproportionately struggling,” said Reykdal.

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That includes students with disabilities. The legislature came up a little short on Reykdal’s special education funding ask last session so he’ll ask them to close the gap in this session, but he’s also asking for a change in the way special ed students are taught that focuses on inclusiveness.

“We want a much greater percentage of our kids spending 80 percent or more of their time in a general education classroom and not isolated in a special education classroom,” he said. “So we’re going to keep trying to figure out if there are financial models that create an incentive for districts to do more of that work.”

Reykdal says every student should be able to go to school and feel safe so he’s asking lawmakers for money to cover several efforts in that area, including funding to start seismically retrofitting the dozens of schools in the state in at-risk buildings should a big earthquake hit.

He’s also asking lawmakers to finish funding a large school safety bill that passed last session. This is the bill the creates regional safety centers at all nine of the state’s Education Service Districts so that every school in the state can be trained in recognizing potentially violent students or students in crisis before tragedy strikes.

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“So getting our regional education districts greater capacity and competency on helping districts when they think a student might be violent or have tendencies that way, that’s one part of it. Then there’s this larger issue of how you train personnel around the state in our schools to be focused on safety, how do we have mental health support that’s effective in the area?” he said.

That bill included three full time staff at all nine of those centers, but lawmakers only covered one — the person that will manage threat assessment training for schools. Reykdal is asking lawmakers to finish the job and pay for the other two positions, a program coordinator, and the all-important behavioral health expert.

“So this entire capacity build-out in mental health and behavioral health is getting our school districts to recognize that really we’re the front line screeners — we see it and identify it — but most schools are not equipped to deal with that or to treat it directly. So the idea of a regional approach here is that we’ve got to get schools to understand there’s support in community-based organizations and in our county governments where there are mental health supports, there are behavioral health experts, and we should connecting kids in crisis to those supports.”

Preventing tragedies like school shootings is one of the goals of this effort, but Reykdal says suicide is the larger threat to kids so suicide prevention is also a major part of this. Another priority is revamping the school funding model.

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“We won’t be seeking billions of dollars this year; we’ll deliver the report, but it will be the basis of my budget request next year, which will completely rethink the prototypical school model and specifically on all these support services like counselors, nurses, mental health, safety, etc.”

This includes more counselors and nurses so more schools, especially in rural areas have access, something he says is so important with this generation of kids.

“Something’s different about the environment today and there’s lots of theories about that, but I do think our hypersensitive awareness of every sort of small, medium, and large crisis happening anywhere in the world, it’s sitting in front of them all the time in real time, and that’s just something you and I didn’t experience.”

“We has stress in school, and maybe homework stress and family stress, but worrying about climate debates and worrying about nuclear interaction with Iran and North Korea, and worrying about domestic terrorism–they were not in front of us every single day as a reminder in real time on our social media platforms and our phones.”

Other proposals would help schools identify and support kids with dyslexia, statewide expansion of a mentor program for new teachers and a study to look at the feasibility of a creating a program that would replace student teaching with a paid teacher residency program to increase recruitment and address the state’s teacher shortage.

“I’m competing with Boeing and Microsoft and every retailer for talent and I want them to come teach, and I want to make it lucrative. I want it to be something that everyone aspires to and we’re kind of turning over every rock to make this possible for young people to think about teaching,” Reykdal said.

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