Back in the fall of 2021, the Investing in Student Potential coalition (ISP) held listening sessions with members of the intellectual and developmental disability community about their experiences with Washington’s special education program and support systems for students with disabilities. Key takeaways from these conversations included:


  • The importance of building a broader culture of inclusion at school
  • Recognizing parents as powerful partners on IEP teams
  • Increasing language access and welcoming engagement with families, and
  • The need for stronger funding and accountability mechanisms within special education


These learnings were the foundation of ISP’s 2022 Legislative Platform, and the coalition entered the legislative session with a shared vision for meeting immediate needs and creating impactful change for students with disabilities. Below are some of the progress highlights from the legislative session in four priority areas on the ISP platform that we want to share with you.


Meaningful Family Engagement and Partnership

Our Platform: Authentic partnership with families and communities is the foundation of all equitable and inclusive school communities. It is important that schools create the conditions for collaboration so that families feel they are able to work with school staff and not against them. In order for families to be a meaningful part of an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) team and school community, schools must do more to prioritize accessibility, cultural responsiveness, and trust-based relationships with families.


Progress Highlights from this Session:

One of the biggest wins for families across Washington this session was the legislature’s commitment to increasing language access in K-12 schools. This bill ensures that multicultural and English-language learner families have tools to effectively communicate and engage with teachers, administrators, and other school staff; it requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) to develop language access technical assistance programs in districts and a model policy for implementing language access programs in schools. This legislation also provides technical training and credentialing to interpreters in education and special education settings, and mandates the data collection of languages spoken by students’ families. 

This win will help strengthen culturally responsive family engagement across districts and improve multicultural families’ ability to be active partners in IEP and 504 planning meetings. It will also especially help students with disabilities whose families speak languages other than English to advocate for their interests and feel valued at their school.



Legislators invested more money in the Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO), which is dedicated to supporting families in addressing barriers or concerns within the public education system. The OEO is often a critical resource for families of students with disabilities who need support navigating the complex special education space and challenges at school, and these investments will help increase OEO’s capacity to support more families’ experiences at school.



Professional Development, Training, and Technical Assistance for School Staff

Our Platform: Inclusive schools require strategy and a shift in culture. Knowledge, understanding, and commitment are needed by each staff member and administrator, as are sufficient resources for collaboration and support. Not all districts and schools are equipped equitably. Students with disabilities, and especially those from multicultural families, need school staff to have access to meaningful training and support to build accessible, inclusive schools.

Progress Highlights from this Session:


Legislators allocated funds for OSPI to convene a workgroup to identify trauma-informed strategies, approaches, and curricula for supporting students in distress and with challenging behaviors. The resources produced by this group will allow school staff the opportunity to develop new skills and knowledge in responding to and meeting the diversity and complexity of student needs in the classroom.



Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a framework that calls for the systemic use of targeted behavioral, social-emotional, and academic services in order to support all students. This money will go towards the much-needed training and administration support districts, families, and students have been asking for so that they can implement this need-driven framework effectively at their school.



Supporting the Mental Health, Behavior Supports, and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Needs of Students

Our Platform: To meaningfully engage students in learning we must first support their social-emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs. Students receiving special education services and students with disabilities are too often made to feel isolated and like they don’t belong while at school. Moreover, as we continue to navigate the impacts of the pandemic, we must ensure our education system is taking steps to support students with disabilities as they re-engage in learning, especially Black, Indigenous, and other students of color who have been most impacted through the pandemic.


Progress Highlights from this Session:

Another significant win of the session was the increased funding allocations granted to schools so that they can hire additional staff to support the physical, social, and emotional health of students (ex: counselors, nurses, social workers, etc.). Increasing the number of qualified adults in schools is an essential step in addressing the student mental health crisis. While we would like for these increases to have been allocated more equitably and with more flexibility to accommodate other mental health resources students, especially students with disabilities,  may need beyond staff people, these investments are essential to school right now.


Thanks to the advocacy of the Legislative Youth Advisory Council and many other young people in Washington, HB 1834 passed this session, which allows students to take excused absences from school in order to care for their mental health. While a small intervention, these changes acknowledge the severe impacts of the pandemic, among many other experiences, on young people and will allow them to prioritize their well-being.



The legislature dedicated some funding to the State Board of Education (SBE) so that they could work with OSPI and school districts to design a school climate survey and hire a family engagement coordinator. Each of these investments is intended to strengthen key education agencies’ feedback loops with students and families as it relates to school culture and experience. Maintaining consistent feedback from students with disabilities, especially students of color, and their families is going to be an essential part of this work if our state wants to ensure school communities are inclusive and welcoming to all.



Establishing Funding Structures Centered on Student Need

Our Platform:

To create an education system that values and supports all students, we must establish funding structures that are rooted in equity and designed to address barriers that marginalize students. We must work towards a funding system that is centered on what different students need to access their education.

Progress Highlights from this Session:

  • SAFETY NET FUNDING (+$13 million)

The Safety Net Program allows districts to apply for and receive additional funds if they are serving high-needs individuals or have high special education enrollments. While some districts use these resources to better meet students’ needs at school, others use the funds to transfer high-needs students to out-of-state placements. Due to concerns, legislators allocated some funds towards an annual report to keep track of the use of out-of-state placements for students receiving special education services, but Governor Inslee vetoed the measure.



Transportation safety net funding will be made available to districts that demonstrate high costs associated with transporting “special passengers,” which includes students who require transportation as part of the Individualized Educational Program (IEP), students experiencing homelessness, and foster youth.


What’s Next

Many wins from this session – particularly increased language access and investments in students’ mental and social-emotional health – are promising changes that will improve student and family experiences in school. And yet, ensuring their effective and equitable implementation across Washington is the next chapter for this work. For advocates looking to get involved, Open Doors for Multicultural Families will continue championing the work around language access, including the upcoming implementation efforts. To get involved with these efforts, please submit your contact information here.


Additionally, in the next year, advocates will have opportunities to weigh in on the use of isolation and restraint in classrooms and the impacts of these practices on students with disabilities, especially students of color.


Finally, true funding equity for special education is a central issue that undergirds almost all of the needs and solutions students and families brought forth to ISP around making schools more inclusive and accessible. We will continue to advocate for legislators to create equitable and ample special education funding structures so that our schools are better equipped to meet every student’s needs by design.


Informe a la comunidad: los avances más destacados de la sesión legislativa de 2022

向社区提出的报告: 有关2022年度立法会议进展的重要事项

تقرير مفصل للمجتمع: أبرز الإنجازات من الدورة التشريعية لعام 2022