Congressman Joel McIntyre and Congresswoman Jenny Graham: Quality learning environments for all students



Congressman Joel McIntyre and Congresswoman Jenny Graham

Congressman Joel McIntyre and Congresswoman Jenny Graham

It’s time for Congress to address the diverse and unequal learning environments that many Washington students face every day.

Observing schools across the state has strengthened our resolve that Washington State must do more to ensure that basic standards of learning environments are met. But this burden cannot be placed solely on poor communities. All students in Washington, regardless of their zip code, are entitled to a quality learning environment.

Last session, we sponsored legislation to address the funding needs of schools that are struggling to meet their funding needs. House Bill 1044 received strong bipartisan support and had a successful public hearing. The bill passed the House unanimously and was sent to the Senate. Despite strong support in other chambers, some senators wanted to tweak the bill. As a result, each chamber passed its own version of the proposal, but the bill stalled because no consensus could be reached.

Although I was disappointed, I wanted to make further efforts to address this issue. I need a solution. Works anywhere in Washington state. The purpose of this law is to set basic standards for student facilities, where none currently exist. While some students enjoy every academic privilege and luxury in the state’s schools, others are crammed into crowded classrooms with poor lighting, poor ventilation, and questionable or unreliable air conditioning systems. It is clear that there are.

The Washington State Constitution declares education to be the state’s most important duty. Providing quality education should also extend to capital expenditures and school construction and building improvements. Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court recently ruled otherwise. We can’t change their rulings, but we can pass legislation that does what’s right for students and ensures a quality learning environment for everyone.

Our plan was to provide funding to small school districts through a needs-based grant process. School districts will receive scores based on specific criteria. The grants were supposed to go to school districts with scores that reflected the most pressing need. Projects eligible for grants must correct significant physical deficiencies, including modernizing, repairing, reconfiguring, or replacing existing buildings or constructing new buildings.

In stark contrast, Washington state’s current model provides some communities with easy access to quality school building construction while others have been unable to consistently pass construction bonds. Society is being left behind.

While we are on track to provide funding to school districts that need it, our bill builds on continued bipartisan efforts to bring equity to the learning environment in each classroom. That’s the important part. We know that every school in Washington is different, but that doesn’t mean some students should be surrounded by better, higher-quality learning environments than others. Today our youth face many challenges. Aging schools should not be among them.

Getting House Bill 1044 across the finish line and signed into law during the 2024 session is one of our top priorities. Our goal is to ensure a high-quality learning environment for students wherever they attend school. This bipartisan effort to improve schools with structural or safety deficiencies is essential to ensuring an appropriate and equitable learning environment for all Washington students.

Rep. Joel McIntyre (R-Cathlamet) is a Republican aide on the House Education Committee. He also serves on the House Capital Budget Committee and the Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development Committee. Rep. Jenny Graham (R-Spokane) is a Republican aide on the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee. She also serves on the Community Safety, Justice and Reentry, and Health Care and Wellness committees.

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