This week, over one million kids across Washington state are headed back to the classroom to begin another school year. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are headed back to court where they face contempt for lack of progress in fulfilling our constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education. It is a dramatic prelude to what will most definitely be a challenging budget year for policymakers. To make the best decisions for Washington state’s kids and our collective well-being in the future, it is imperative that policymakers recognize that the success of our kids depends on support both inside and outside the classroom.
For the nearly one in three (625,000) kids living in families that struggle to make ends meet in Washington state, the start of another school year presents a unique set of challenges. Kids that don’t have secure housing or adequate food find it difficult to perform well in school or attend on a regular basis. With unemployment still high, many of their parents lack stable employment, the stress of which can ripple throughout the family. In Washington state:
- Four of every 10 (39 percent) children are living in families that are struggling to cover the cost of housing. Last year over 30,000 kids in Washington’s public education system were homeless.
- One of every five children (20 percent) in our state live in households that have difficulty putting food on the table.
- Nearly one in three of kids (31 percent) have parents that are unable to find secure employment.
- Each of these indicators is far worse for children of color, who will represent the majority of school age children in the United States this year.
Research shows the impact of such adverse experiences can last a lifetime. In Washington state, lack of economic security is the number one adverse experience children face.
If we want to improve the educational outcomes for our kids, they need more than K-12. To be sure, a high quality K-12 education is essential for a child’s future success and is a basic right guaranteed to them under our state constitution. But resources outside the classroom are equally as important in setting them up for success in school and beyond. High quality early learning, access to affordable higher education, supports for parents trying to make ends meet while seeking employment, and health and human services that provide stability for children are critical investments for our kids, communities, and economy.
Some policymakers think our state can’t afford to make these investments in our children and families. We know the opposite is true - we can’t afford not to.
So, as students walk into their classrooms tomorrow and policymakers consider the education funding challenges before them, they should remember it takes a high quality K-12 system and a lot more to support children’s success in school. Let’s not pit education funding against other equally important investments that are essential to our collective future as a state. When our kids do better, we all do better.
To learn more about the economic well being of kids in Washington, take a look at our blog post for the 2014 KIDS COUNT database. For more information about our take on the education funding debate, read the amicus brief Pacifica Law Group filed on our behalf.
Please join us and our partners of the Reclaiming Prosperity series on Saturday, September 27th for a special event with former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
Tickets are only $5 at Town Hall. Click here to get yours before they sell out.
Now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Reich was named one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century by Time Magazine. He is the author of 13 books including Aftershock and Beyond Outrage, and presented the Sundance award-winning documentary Inequality for All.
Reich recently commended Seattle for leading a long-overdue movement toward a living wage. At Town Hall on September 27th, he will discuss national income inequality trends, the effect these trends are having on the poorest of the poor, how the income gap is “undermining our democracy,” and why Seattle got it right. Reich will be joined by an expert panel for an onstage Q&A.
Click here to get your tickets before they are gone! The program will run from 7:30 - 9:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:00 p.m.
We are proud sponsors of the Reclaiming Prosperity series. Additional partners include Citizen University, True Patriot, OneAmerica, Fuse Washington, the Progress Alliance, Working Washington, and Seattle University Law School.
We know in the heat of summer, it may be hard to think ahead to December. But all you have to do right now is save the date for our third annual policy conference, Budget Matters 2014. The event will be held on Friday, December 12th at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
The annual conference brings together more than 300 people, including advocates, legislators, students, and community partners. Previous guest speakers have included Van Jones, Heather McGhee, Jared Bernstein, and Governor Jay Inslee.
We are hard at work setting up speakers and panel discussions. We will have more details and a registration link soon.
But for now, enjoy the sun and check out the video from last year's conference.
Today, Pacifica Law Group filed an amicus brief with the Washington State Supreme Court on our behalf that makes it clear that legislators cannot responsibly address the requirements of the McCleary decision to fully fund education without raising new revenue.
Joining us as co-signers on the brief are Centerstone, Equity in Education Coalition, Eldercare Alliance, Solid-Ground, Statewide Poverty Action Network and students from the University of Washington.
In the amicus brief we argue that the math doesn’t pencil out when you try to fully fund basic education without new revenue. It details the devastating impact of potential budget cuts on students, low-income families, communities of color, supports for older adults and children, and more.
More than two years after the court’s McCleary ruling was issued, the legislature has largely relied on unsustainable funding to make additional investments in basic education and remains behind schedule in adequately funding education.
The amicus brief recommends that the court encourage the legislature to raise additional revenue that is stable and dependable in order to fully fund basic education. Failing to raise revenue to meet our education funding needs would result in cuts to other areas of the state budget that kids need to thrive. Without stable housing, access to health care and nutritious food, and other supports that create long-term economic security, we simply won’t create better outcomes for all kids in Washington. And isn’t that what McCleary is all about?
Read the full amicus brief here.
Elena Hernandez - A recurring theme is emerging – high poverty rates and declining family economic security are hurting Washington state’s kids and our economy. A new report from Child Trends is the third report in one month highlighting the importance of tackling systemic child poverty (see our post on the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book and the 2014 Opportunity Scorecard).
Today’s report provides new state-level data illustrating the prevalence of eight adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – particularly stressful events that are strongly linked to negative outcomes later in life, such as obesity, alcoholism, and depression.
Economic hardship is the most common adverse childhood experience in Washington state, a consistent finding across all states. One out of every 4 kids have gone through repeated periods where their family found it difficult to cover costs of even the most basic needs like food or housing.
When a quarter of our kids experience economic hardship during their childhood we cannot achieve our full potential as a state. Developing a strategic and targeted approach to reducing poverty and removing barriers to opportunity should be a top state priority.
Other highlights from the Washington state–specific data include:
- Over one-third (36 percent) of children experienced one or two adverse childhood experiences at some point from birth to age 17. The more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they are to experience negative outcomes in the future.
- Nine percent of kids are either the victim of violence or witness violence in their neighborhoods.
- One out of every five children (21 percent) lives with a parent or guardian that is either separated or has gone through a divorce.
- Twelve percent of children live in a home where someone struggles with alcohol or drugs or suffers from mental illness. In fact the prevalence of mental health related ACEs in Washington state is among the highest in the country.
Elena Hernandez & Lori Pfingst -House Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s new anti-poverty proposal doesn’t reflect reality and would have damaging effects for Washington state’s low income children and families. On Tuesday, we highlighted data from the 2014 KIDS COUNT Databook demonstrating that kids in our state continue to see declines in economic well-being, making this new proposal all the more concerning.
Under Chairman Ryan’s proposal, all federal safety net programs (including rental assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)) would be rolled into a single block grant provided to the states, misleadingly called an “Opportunity Grant.” This fixed funding structure would prevent safety net programs from being able to respond to increases in need.
History has shown that block grants, which provide a fixed amount of funding, regardless of changes in need, stifle the ability of safety net programs to achieve their main goal of mitigating the impact of economic hardship on children and families.
The difference in how TANF, funded via a federal block grant, and SNAP, an entitlement program, responded during the recession is illustrative of the problem with Chairman Ryan’s proposal. The fixed funding structure of TANF was unable to respond to rising need in Washington state during the recession. The figure below illustrates that while poverty rates for children and families continued to climb following the recession, the proportion of low income and poor children receiving TANF declined. In 2008, for every 100 kids living at or below the poverty line, TANF provided support to nearly 40. By 2012, that number declined to just 28 out of 100 kids. In contrast, SNAP, with its more flexible funding structure, was able to react to increased demand during the recession (see figure below). In 2008, SNAP provided support for roughly 45 out of every 100 low income Washingtonians. The proportion increased to about 67 out of every 100 low income Washingtonians by 2012.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns that Chairman Ryan’s proposal to combine all of the safety net programs into one block grant would pit these important programs against one another, leading to cuts for basic assistance programs that have historically performed well, like SNAP (read more here). According to CBPP, restructuring funding into block grants will lead to reduced federal funding over time as it becomes increasingly challenging to identify need within these programs. Our analysis of the 2014 KIDS COUNT Databook illustrated that kids and families in Washington continue to see declines in economic well-being. Paul Ryan’s plan would only serve to intensify these issues. In order to put our economy back on track, we need policies that reflect reality and tackle systemic poverty by ensuring meaningful pathways to opportunity.
Elena Hernandez & Lori Pfingst - New data released today show that declining economic security and the opportunity gap for kids of color remain the most significant barriers to unleashing the full potential of Washington state’s children and economy.
The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book provides a national snapshot of child well-being over the past 25 years, as well as more recent trends for the 50 states. Both nationally and in Washington state historically high poverty, unemployment, and housing costs, coupled with racial and ethnic disparities in child well-being are our biggest threats to progress. The data show:
- The total child poverty rate increased from 15 percent to 19 percent between 2005 and 2012. Poverty rates are as high as 35 percent among Black, Latino, and American Indian children, and the number of Asian and Pacific Islander children living in poverty has almost doubled.
- Nearly one-third (31 percent) of children have parents that lack secure employment. Among Black children the rate is even higher – four of every ten children (40 percent) live with parents that do not have regular, full-time employment.
- Four of every 10 children (39 percent) live in families with high housing costs. Latino children are most likely to be impacted, with nearly half (49 percent) living in households where 30 percent or more of household pretax income is spent on housing.
Education and health indicators are showing overall improvement, but disparities for kids of color remain. For example:
- The total share of students in Washington state not graduating on time decreased from 27 percent to 21 percent between 2005 and 2012. Latino students saw a decrease from 37 percent to 21 percent over the same time period, but the rates for most students of color have worsened. The largest increase was among American Indian students, whose rates increased from 49 percent in 2005 to 59 percent.
- Compared to 2005, a higher percent of students today are meeting fourth grade reading standards and eighth grade math standards on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. A higher percent of students from most major racial and ethnic backgrounds are meeting proficiency in reading and math today compared to 2005. (Note: Data not available for American Indian/Alaska Native on this indicator)
- The percent of uninsured children has declined to from 8 percent to 6 percent since 2008. Significantly more Black and Latino kids have gained coverage, while American Indian kids go uninsured at a rate three times higher than the state average (18 percent).
- The teen birth rate has declined dramatically, from 31 to 23 (per 1,000) between 2005 and 2012. The largest declines have occurred among teens of color.
The well-being of our children is the most significant predictor of our long-term economic and social future. The 2014 KIDS COUNT data suggest that, while overall gains in education and health are welcome news and show progress is possible, declining economic security and racial and ethnic disparities are holding our kids and economy back. A future where progress is made for some and not others is unacceptable.
Given the overwhelming evidence documenting the strong relationship between economic security and all other areas of well-being, progress in these areas can be accelerated if we meaningfully tackle systemic poverty and advance racial equity.