Rep. Jim Walsh Files School Choice Bill to 'Empower Washington Families'

·3 min read

Dec. 13—Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, has pre-filed a bill that would substantially reform K-12 school funding in Washington.

House Bill 1633 would create a state Family Empowerment Scholarship Program to offer $10,000-a-year scholarships to up to 100,000 K-12 students and their families in Washington state. The scholarships could be used for tuition, supplies and other costs at public schools, charter schools, private schools, or home-school systems.

The legislation would be a major step toward creating a system by which education money follows the student rather than government bureaucracy, said Walsh's office in a news release.

Walsh said the bill gives students' families real, meaningful choices in how that money is spent.

"The time has come for bold reform of our K-12 funding system in Washington. I understand some people will hesitate at the size and ambition of this proposal. This plan is bold. It's a game-changer," said Walsh in a written statement. "It empowers Washington's kids and their families to have real school choice regardless of whether they're rich, poor, or — like most of us — somewhere in the middle. Finally, it will also help our public school districts become more efficient and productive."

Walsh said his proposal underscores several facts about Washington state's current K-12 education system, including:

—Test scores and other standard measurements of student achievement indicate Washington's K-12 students are struggling, and their proficiency in basic skills, particularly in reading and mathematics, has been in decline for several years;

—Parents and family members are and should be the primary decision makers about their children's well-being, including about what is best for their children's K-12 education;

—Washington state should empower and support parents, families, and K-12 students to choose the educational environment that best suits each student's needs;

—The state has authorized various education options, including traditional public schools, charter schools, some of which focus on educating children who are members of racial minority groups, home-based instruction, and private schools. However, an inequity remains: families with greater financial means can choose from among these options, while families that do not have such means cannot. This inequity traps some K-12 students in failing schools or schools that do not meet their needs; and

—The recent COVID-19 pandemic has made the societal cost of this inequity plain and apparent.

Walsh, who currently serves as the assistant ranking Republican member on the House Education Committee, said "my bill establishes a more equitable funding program that empowers parents and families to make choices while providing greater educational equity, enrichment, and achievement. It uses a common-sense system of vouchers and scholarship money to assure a uniform quality education for all of Washington's K-12 students. It moves Washington closer to a system in which the money 'follows the backpack.'"

The state Legislature will convene for the 2022 legislative session on Jan. 10.