Legislature Makes Historic Investments in School Construction, Progress in Special Education and Mental Health

Media Contact

Katy Payne she/her

This week, the Washington State Legislature passed their final 2024 Supplemental Budgets, and today, they will adjourn.

OLYMPIA—March 7, 2024—From preparation for kindergarten to success in college and career, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s priorities for the 2024 Legislative Session aimed to support Washington’s students, their educators, and their families at every stage of their educational journey.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal

Each year, Reykdal’s legislative requests address the most pressing needs across the K–12 education system with strategic investments in systems and supports that have demonstrated success. This year, Reykdal prioritized special education services, mental and behavioral health, access to nutritious meals, clean classroom air, competitive compensation to retain paraeducators, dual language, early literacy, college access for students identified as low-income, and more.

“This session, the Legislature made meaningful progress for our students across many critical areas,” said Reykdal. “Through their final budgets, the Legislature has made clear their commitment to sustaining evidence-based investments in student learning and well-being that are targeted to have the greatest impact.” 

School Buildings and Facilities

Students learn best in school buildings that are safe, healthy, and modernized to meet the needs of 21st century learning. School construction is funded largely through local levies and bonds, with the state providing a matching share through the School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP). 

As the costs of construction have increased, the amount provided by the state has not kept pace. Since taking office, Superintendent Reykdal has consistently requested that the Legislature align SCAP with actual construction costs. With the partnership of Senate Capital Budget Chair Mark Mullet, the Legislature has updated the funding formula for the first time in nearly 50 years, which will provide an additional $103 per square foot for school construction. This marks the first significant increase to the square footage allocation in the history of SCAP.

The Legislature also made substantial progress on Superintendent Reykdal’s requests for HVAC improvements so all students learn in buildings with clean air, continued investments in grants for construction in small and rural school districts, and in construction and modernization projects at multiple skill centers across the state.

Special Education

Over the past few years, the Legislature has made monumental progress in funding for schools to provide high-quality services to students with disabilities. This year, the Legislature furthered that progress and has brought the state much closer to full funding for special education services. Further, recognizing the continued need for highly effective special education teachers, the Legislature invested in Superintendent Reykdal’s request to sustain a residency program to train and prepare future special education teachers.

Five years ago, the Legislature provided funding to develop a statewide effort—called the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project—to increase the amount of time that students with disabilities spend learning in general education settings with their peers. The Legislature invested to continue the project, which has increased the number of students with disabilities spending 80–100% of their school day in general education settings by 8.5 percentage points in 5 years.

Student Mental Health and Well-Being

With an investment of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) federal emergency relief funds, the nine regional educational service districts have operated a multi-year initiative to provide prevention education and coordinated intervention supports to students. As emergency relief funds roll off, the Legislature has invested to support the initiative so students across the state will continue to receive these mental and behavioral health supports at school.

Other Areas of Progress

In addition to the progress above, the Legislature also invested to expand access to dual language programming, sustain statewide access to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, sustain evidence-based efforts led by community organizations to support student success in ninth grade and in college readiness, respond to the rising costs of school meals, build a statewide online High School and Beyond Planning tool, and more. 

The Legislature also made enhancements to the school funding model, providing school districts with resources to hire additional classified staff (like paraeducators, bus drivers, and nutrition professionals) and/or increase classified staff compensation. Further, the Legislature increased funding for school districts’ supplies and operating costs so they can respond to the rising costs of goods and services while maintaining programming.

Continued Advocacy

During this supplemental budget year, the Legislature made great strides in support of students, families, educators, and school staff. In next year’s biennial budget request, Superintendent Reykdal will double down on his requests for universal access to nutritious school meals, dual credit courses with no out-of-pocket costs, continued expansion of dual language programs, and other targeted supports to continue the progress of closing opportunity gaps.