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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Vote yes for sex ed and long-term care investments

It’s a refreshingly light year for ballot measures, and only two of them actually do anything. Referendum 90 would require sex education in public schools. And Senate Joint Resolution 8212 would allow the state’s new Long-Term Care Trust Fund to invest in the stock market. We recommend a yes vote on each.

Referendum 90

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5395. It requires schools to provide medically accurate sex education. This shouldn’t have been a big deal.

But of course it was. Sex education is a hot-button issue that gets a certain segment of the population fired up. Opponents gathered signatures to place a referendum on the ballot. A Yes vote upholds the law, and a No vote would cancel it.

If voters uphold the law, little would change in most school districts. Even before the new requirement passed, state law had already authorized school districts to provide sexual health education consistent with guidelines developed by the state Department of Health and the state superintendent of public instruction. Most schools do so.

But some don’t, and students in those districts do not receive crucial information for a lifetime of safe sexual health. Having sex at a young age is linked to disease, low educational achievement and poverty.

Sex ed should begin in the home, of course, but in many families that education is incomplete for a host of reasons including general discomfort when parents talk to their kids about sex and some parents’ lack of medically accurate information and awareness of the social environment students face.

The new law brings holdout school districts into the fold. Parents and legal guardians would have the option to opt out, but every school district would have to offer comprehensive, age-appropriate sex ed. Instruction must avoid discrimination against any student and teach about the importance of voluntary consent before sex. The official voters’ guide has all the details.

Though the state would supply a framework, each district could develop its own curriculum. That’s important given the sensitivity of the topic. One flashpoint over the law involved a graphic depiction suggested for fourth-graders. Every district should carefully review its material with parents, teachers and the community to ensure appropriateness.

Districts would do well to follow Spokane Public Schools’ approach. Here, educators recognize the central role of parents in sex education and instilling shared values so that young people make good choices. The district already was updating its curriculum even before SB5395. That update leans heavily on a citizens advisory committee of medical experts, faith leaders, parents and students.

Kids need appropriate vocabulary and awareness to make wise decisions, to protect themselves from unwanted attention and to stay healthy. Parents are always the first teachers, but if they’re not around, the public schools need to be there to back them up. A Yes vote on Referendum 90 will make that happen.

Senate Joint Resolution 8212

This resolution landed on the ballot only because it would amend the state constitution. The constitution prohibits investing public money in the stock market or private companies. SJR8212 would create an exemption for the state Long Term Care Trust Fund.

The fund is the result of a 2019 law that created a long-term care insurance program. Washingtonians can pay premiums to ensure they have money for critical assistance with regular daily activity when they need it in old age.

The challenge is making sure the fund stays solvent, especially given that the long-term care benefit is indexed to inflation. To that end, the state would like to invest those holdings so they can grow over time. The public should have the opportunity to grow these dollars over time the same way the private sector would, saving the public some cost as the principal value grows.

The writers of the Washington Constitution were understandably leery of investing public dollars in private markets. Modern investing is nothing like it was in 1889, though. That’s why the constitution already exempts several other funds including public pensions and industrial insurance.

A Yes vote on SJR8212 will give a stronger financial footing to a program that will help many Washingtonians as they grow older.