As legislators turn their attention to funding education and other crucial priorities, more needs to be done to ensure that all kids have the same chance to succeed, regardless of their race or family income. Not only is this the right thing to do, but the future economic prosperity of Washington state depends on it.
The difference between opportunities available to children from wealthier communities compared to those from poorer communities, known as the opportunity gap, can impact outcomes in the classroom, future success in the job market, and the well-being of entire communities.
Our recent report, in partnership with the Children’s Alliance, State of Washington’s Children, shows that too many of our kids lack the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life:
- Over 600,000 children in Washington state– nearly two out of every five — live in households struggling to make ends meet.
- In 2011, 20 percent of all American Indian/Alaska Native children were without health insurance, well above the overall average of six percent.
These statistics impact everyone in Washington state. In 2011, a lifetime of restricted opportunity meant a loss of $240 million in wages for the current working population of blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in Washington state. Those earnings could have been used to start a business, buy a home or send a child to college – investments we all benefit from. As our state becomes more diverse, failing to close the gap in opportunity will have even greater economic consequences not only for families of color, but for all Washingtonians.
In order to make real progress in closing the opportunity gap, the state needs to make targeted investments in education, economic security and public health:
- Invest in services that improve children’s lives: Kids living in low-income communities face a lifetime of challenges in education and future employment. Investments in health care and economic supports allow children and families to get the services they need to be successful. Rebuilding programs designed to help parents find at keep work and investing in enhancing the economic security of Washington state families will go a long way in expanding opportunity.
- Create a culturally competent and inclusive education system: From early learning to worker retraining programs, it is critical that our educational system adapt to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population. Investments in expanding pre-K, recruiting more minority teachers and bolstering financial aid programs for technical and four year colleges are important to creating an education system capable of ensuring opportunity to more kids and students.
Opening opportunity to more students depends on these things, and we can make these investments by closing tax loopholes, making current revenue increases permanent, and enacting longer-term revenue reform.
Read our full report, “State of Washington’s Children 2013,” which illustrates the opportunity gap in our communities. The report, issued as part of our Kids Count in Washington partnership with the Children’s Alliance, combines analysis on diversity in Washington state with how children from different racial and ethnic groups fare in education, health care, and basic needs. The report can be found here.