Gov. Jay Inslee signs House Bill 1541 at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle on March 30, 2016. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, implements strategies to close the educational opportunity gap. • Courtesy Photo
Gov. Jay Inslee signs House Bill 1541 at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle on March 30, 2016. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, implements strategies to close the educational opportunity gap. • Courtesy Photo

At Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle on March 30, Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1541, a measure aimed at closing the opportunity gap for students of color and non-English speaking students. The opportunity gap refers to structural problems within the education system that disproportionately affect students of color and reduces their opportunities to excel academically.

“Every child in Washington state is guaranteed the right to an equitable education under our state constitution,” said the bill’s prime sponsor Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos in a statement. “Right now, we are not delivering on this promise. Closing the opportunity gap is the single most important step we can take to ensure that every student has a meaningful opportunity to learn. Today we move our state closer to eliminating the inequities that exist in our educational system and giving our students the opportunities they need to succeed.”

Asian Pacific Islander community leaders have been working toward passing this bill for half a decade, said Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs executive director Michael Itti.

“Community leaders representing CAPAA and the other ethnic commissions have been working tirelessly since at least 2009 to achieve this milestone,” Itti said.

A major policy reform behind HB 1541 centers on student discipline, according to the bill’s supporters. Students facing long-term suspension often lose touch with their schools due to the lack of available educational services provided to them while out of school. Many of these students drop out of school permanently.

HB 1541 will reduce the number of long-term suspensions, require schools to work with affected families to develop student reengagement plans, and require schools to provide educational while students are in a disciplinary status. These reforms are intended to help students stay engaged in learning even when discipline is necessary.

HB 1541 adopts the recommendations put forth by the Education Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC). Those recommendations address three main areas:

  • The cultural disconnect between educators and students of color.
  • The disconnect between schools and the families of students of color.
  • The lack of quality data on student demographics that enable policymakers to make better informed decisions.

“There’s been a lot of focus on education funding the last few years,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, co-chair of the EOGOAC, in a statement. “A fully funded education system is important, but it’s only part of the solution. Fully funding a broken system will not get us the educational outcomes we want when the deck is stacked against so many of our kids. All kids deserve an education. Closing the opportunity gap is a huge step in the right direction in restoring equity in our schools.”

To read the complete EOGOAC recommendations, click here.

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