Education committee approves Hawkins’ school calendar bill

Following a challenging school year for students, parents, and schools, and anticipating significant learning loss across Washington state, the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee has taken a step forward to address “learning loss” throughout the state.

The committee today approved 12th District state Sen. Brad Hawkins’ bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 5147, aimed at addressing learning loss by exploring alternatives to current school calendars that leave students with nearly three months each year with no school instruction.

Hawkins, the ranking Republican member on the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, is sponsoring the bill to explore alternative school calendars. His lead co-sponsor is 41st District Sen. Lisa Wellman, who chairs the committee and works closely with Hawkins on education policy. Other prominent Senate co-sponsors include Majority Leader Andy Billig, Ways and Means Committee Vice Chair David Frockt, Democratic Caucus Chair Bob Hasegawa, and Republican Caucus Chair Ann Rivers.

As passed by the committee, the bill would create opportunities for up to 30 school districts (15 from western Washington and 15 from eastern Washington) to voluntarily participate in year-round school. The bill includes a financial incentive in the school funding formula for districts seeking to spread their existing state-funded 180 days over a full calendar year. The bill would require instructional days in at least 11 months of the school year and breaks of no longer than four weeks.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction would select applicant districts based on the bill’s criteria to implement the program beginning in the 2022-23 school year and concluding after the 2025-26 school year and then report back to the Legislature regarding its findings. If this program works well, the Legislature could consider expansion to all schools in future years.

Hawkins, who served for 10 years on the Eastmont School Board and North Central Educational Service District Board before being elected to the Legislature, says now is the time for the state to encourage willing school districts to reform their school calendars.

“Now is the time – as we’ll pull out of this pandemic – to think big about reforming the system and to get serious about addressing student learning loss,” said Hawkins. “Long summer breaks, requiring significant reteaching in the fall, are the last thing our kids need in the years ahead. I hope for a program that encourages lawmakers and districts to consider transformational reforms to meet students’ academic needs. They deserve that,” says Hawkins.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has listed reforms to the school calendar as one of his agency’s 10 “strategic changes.” In a Jan. 8, 2021, letter to Gov. Jay Inslee and members of the Legislature, Reykdal cited “Substantially shrink summer learning loss in the long term, and learning loss due to the pandemic in the short term, by balancing the school calendar” as a policy step for increasing learning for students in an effort “to become the highest performing public education system in the nation.”

Reykdal appreciates the bipartisan effort and positive dialogue around SB 5147, saying, “I am grateful for Senator Hawkins’ deep dive into this critical work. We have known for a very long time that our agrarian school calendars contribute to summer learning loss and a lack of supports for students who need us the most. By rebalancing calendars, we can improve student achievement and student supports, and we can sustain the teaching profession for our educators who are cramming 1,700+ work hours into a compressed calendar.”

The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee has referred the bill to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.