In early February, Rep. Gerry Pollet introduced two education-related bills: HB 1860 to address lead in school water and HB 1910 to fully fund special education in schools across Washington.
Pollet (D-Seattle) wants to require all public schools in Washington to test and remove lead contamination in school water.
“One of Seattle’s schools in my neighborhood has a contamination level of sixty ppb. That is completely unacceptable and horrifying to hear as a parent,” stated Pollet, who is also a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “It is inexcusable not to test for lead to protect our children’s health and development.”
That lead level, found at Green Lake Elementary, is 60 times the maximum level of lead in water recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). State data shows that 97 percent of schools participating in a voluntary testing program had at least one water source with levels of lead above one part per billion.
Pollet’s bill would require school to test for lead in their water at least once in the first three years. After that, annual tests would be required. The bill did not make it out of committee by Friday’s deadline to advance policy bills.
The legislation may come back in future sessions. Pollet has also been working with Environment Washington and WashPIRG, who will soon be releasing a study on lead contamination in school water in Washington.
“We’ve known the dangers of lead contamination for years. By removing the lead from our schools, we address a major problem and provide a healthier and brighter future for all children,” Pollet stated said.
The other bill’s co-sponsors, including Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), Rep. Shelley Kloba (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Vandana Slatter (D-Bellevue), have been working for the past year on developing a model to fully fund special education and improve outcomes for students with disabilities in Washington.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reported that school districts spent over $230 million in the last school year to pay for special education services for students out of school levy funding. Pollet believes that “special education is clearly part of basic education.”
According to OSPI, in the 2016-2017 graduation year only 59 percent of students receiving special education graduated in four years, compared to over 80 percent graduation rates in similar states.
“Our children have a constitutional right to an education, and we have a moral obligation to provide the support for them to succeed in school,” Pollet stated. “If we want to see these numbers change, we need to dramatically ramp up our investments to give students the opportunities they need and deserve.”
As part of the 2017 education funding overhaul related to the McCleary lawsuit, the Washington state Legislature increased the base amount of overall education funding as well as the additional multiplier schools receive for students enrolled in special education. As part of that legislation, school districts were barred from using local levies to fund basic education programs, and had their levy funding capacity reduced.
“I’ve meet with school administrators in my district and it’s pretty clear the Legislature needs to step up funding for special education,” Pollet stated.
See www.housedemocrats.wa.gov/pollet for more.