On the first day of the legislative session, I took an oath to uphold the state constitution, and Washington’s constitution is clear: It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. This obligation was reinforced by a recent state Supreme Court ruling in which the Legislature was ordered to fulfill our paramount duty to fund K-12 education.
The court gave us a clear to-do list. It identified several key areas that need additional funding: reducing class sizes for grades K-3, implementing all-day kindergarten statewide, and paying for classroom materials, supplies, and operating and transportation costs. But if we want to fulfill our obligation to provide for our children’s education, we have to do more than just pay for smaller class sizes and more textbooks.
We know that our K-12 public school system gets its best results when children arrive ready to learn. That requires protecting and enhancing quality early learning programs, like Working Connections Child Care and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, which provide education, health, nutrition and other services to low-income children.
Our duty to the children of this state does not end when they graduate from high school. Our higher education system must provide the kind of world-class education our children need for the great jobs of the future, at a tuition cost that won’t force students and their families to take on crippling debt or prevent them from obtaining a higher education altogether.
Not everything that shapes a child’s education happens in the classroom. If we truly want our children to succeed, they need good health, food security and a safe place to live. Students who come to school sick, hungry or from an unsafe home will have difficulty learning in school, regardless of their class size or how great their teachers are.
The constitution is clear: We must provide for the education of all children in the state, not just those who have stable and supportive lives at home.
The state delivers several important programs to help children arrive at school prepared to succeed. Apple Health provides health care for children in low-income families. One in four children in our community live in households that struggle to put food on the table. Our state Food Assistance Program helps ensure that food resources are available for families that need them. Statewide, there are more than 27,000 homeless school-aged children, enough kids to fill the Spokane Arena … twice. The Housing Trust Fund plays a key role in building accessible low-income housing in our community.
These safety net programs too often take a backseat to other priorities. This year’s initial Senate budget proposal cuts services that help children and families because the mostly Republican Senate majority refuses to consider raising additional revenue. The Legislature must be resourceful and courageous enough to provide for investments both in the classroom and in the community. Shifting money from homelessness prevention to the classroom doesn’t help homeless kids succeed in school – we can’t expect children to excel when they have to do their homework by the dome light of a car their family calls home.
As we approach the end of the legislative session, I will continue to work toward a responsible and balanced budget that educates children from early development to career readiness and ensures they have support both inside and outside the classroom. Only by focusing on the whole child can we truly fulfill our constitutional and moral obligation and prepare all of our children to succeed in school and in life.