By most measures, 2020 will likely be a quiet legislative year. In addition to being a presidential election year (in case you hadn’t noticed), eleven states will hold gubernatorial elections and 44 states will hold elections for one or both state legislature chambers. Additionally, many states hold abbreviated or special-session only legislative sessions during even numbered years. With politicians focused on reelection and shortened legislative sessions, it is unlikely we’ll see significant legislation impacting education this year.
There is, however, still an opportunity to make meaningful progress on some issues. A trio of early bills in three different states suggests that 2020 could be a year where states make small but important progress on equity and access issues.
In Florida, HB1043 clarifies which students are eligible for school bus transportation service. Under existing law, only students living more “more than a reasonable walking distance…from the nearest appropriate school,” or K-6 students who face [CL4] “hazardous walking conditions…while in route to or from school” are eligible for transportation services. Now, students living more than two walkable miles from the nearest appropriate school must be provided transportation. Additionally, the bill clarifies what determines whether a walking route is hazardous, such as traffic speed along the route, further protecting students on their way to school. Altogether, the bill would represent a small change, but would be an important step towards ensuring a safe means of transportation to school for more students.
In Missouri, HB1931 would require certain traditional and charter public schools to offer breakfast. Schools with at least 70 percent of students eligible for federal free and reduced-price meals would be required to provide morning breakfast service. The bill specifies this meal service must be provided after the school day starts—ensuring all students have opportunity to participate—but otherwise gives significant discretion to schools regarding its implementation. Student nutrition has repeatedly been shown to be an important factor in student achievement and providing in-school meal services has an especially strong impact on low-income students. This bill would be a major step forward for student equity.
Lastly, in Georgia, HB764 would make minor changes to help charter schools identify and secure appropriate facilities. The bill would allow the state to make unused facilities available to charter schools and permit charter schools to use state facility grants to purchase, lease, refurbish, or maintain unused state facilities. Existing law already requires local school boards to make unused facilities available to charter schools but making an additional pool of buildings available, the bill would assist charter schools in overcoming what often is the most challenging part of opening and providing equitable, accessible services.
Ensuring equitable access to charter schools requires thinking beyond just the number of quality seats available for students and families: students must have safe ways to get to school, be provided with healthy breakfast and lunch service, and must spend their school day in a safe, secure building, all of which allow them to focus on learning. This year could be an important year for legislatures taking small, important steps to ensuring all kids get a fair shake.
Jason Zwara analyzes and develops charter authorizing policies as part of NACSA’s policy team. He tracks state and federal legislation and creates policy resources for members and advocacy partners. Have policy questions? Please reach out at [email protected]