A ZIP code or neighborhood should not determine the educational opportunities or outcomes for kids in our district. Nor should it determine their success or pathways after high school. Smart, equitable investments in K-12 and postsecondary education are more critical than ever. We must learn from our mistakes during the last Great Recession and avoid cuts to education that will deepen racial inequities. The rich diversity of our district requires our leaders to advocate for the necessary K-12 funding to ensure all our kids can succeed in school. It also means our young people have the resources to make post-secondary education a reality without being saddled by debt.

A sound and equitable approach to educational funding includes:

Protecting K-12 Funding & Making Investments to Address the Opportunity Gap
In a time of budget pressure, it will be more important than ever to protect our hard-fought K-12 education funding. Any possible cuts to state K-12 education could hit property-poor areas hardest because these districts do not earn the same level of revenue from levies and rely more on state aide. Our district public school’s budgets cannot get sacrificed.

The rich diversity of our district is what makes us strong. We must commit to ensuring that we work for equitable K-12 funding that accounts for the unique needs of immigrants and refugees, English-language-learner’s, low-income students, and students with disabilities. For example, the cap on funding for students with disabilities is indexed at 13.5 percent of students. This is not right. We must ensure funds allocated match the needs of students in the district.

Integrating trauma-informed care
All teachers in our public-school systems should be trained in trauma, the impact it has on children, and how to properly work with children who may be suffering from the impacts of trauma. Embedding this type of trauma-informed care training will create better environments to support student learning regardless of challenges they have faced.

We also need to shift our systems of discipline to be centered in the needs of diverse students and work to avoid the kinds of harsh penalties (like suspensions and expulsions) that frequently harm students of color – especially Black boys – and students with disabilities. An important preventative part of this work is investing in access to behavioral health services in our schools, such as school-based mental health clinics.

Supporting our teachers
We must continue to advocate for livable wages for our teachers. And given that research and our lived experiences show students of color benefit academically and socially when teachers share their racial background, we must ensure education-to-career pathways for more teachers of color to serve in our diverse school districts.

Investing in Postsecondary Education for Those with the Least Access
Many of our students pursue college and leave with a crushing degree of student debt. And for many, the rapid accumulation of debt can lead to them dropping out or not pursue education altogether. In 2019, the legislature passed the Workforce Innovation & Investment Act to ensure free college tuition to low-income families – those making up to $55,000 for a family of four. This is a great start to addressing college affordability, but we need to go further. We need to significantly expand access to this support farther up the income scale to make sure debt-free college can become a reality for more of our students in our cost district. We can also create more pathways of opportunity by creating free community and technical college for Washington state residents.

As there is pressure to make cuts to our higher education funding, we must commit to protecting and expanding financial aid to ensure this pandemic does not exacerbate inequities in higher education access for students of color and low-income students.

In a time of budget constraints our values are tested. It’s paramount that our leaders commit to equitable investments to set up all our students for success in the K-12 system and beyond.