Your tax dollars at work: Over $318 million will promote equity and access in education

As our region grows rapidly and the cost of living increases, we must go the extra mile to make sure children and students from all walks of life don’t fall through the cracks. That’s why last month the Council passed a motion I sponsored to invest $318 million over the next 15 years to improve education outcomes for our most vulnerable children and youth.

This funding was made possible by an amendment to the 2015 state transportation budget, sponsored by then State Representative Jessyn Farrell, creating the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account (PSTAA). That amendment imposed a fee on Sound Transit construction contracts and directed the revenues to counties within the Sound Transit service area — $318 million to King County and $200 million to Snohomish and Pierce counties.

For more than two years now, the Council has been deliberating how to best utilize these funds to make the most significant difference possible in the lives of our county’s most vulnerable youth. We began by passing Motion 15029 in 2017 identifying specific populations that PSTAA funding might support and put forth other goals and objectives for the use of the funds. Subsequently, the County identified nine potential education strategies to investigate further for funding — including using the funds to build early learning facilities, increase access and success in post-secondary education, and to support programming or facilities to help vulnerable children and youth in K-12. You can click here to read about all nine of the potential strategy areas.

Earlier this year, the County hired a consultant to write three reports to identify educational gaps and find the most pressing needs across the region. This included a needs assessment report, a strategy assessment report, and a funding level options report.

The research gathered from these reports helped inform our decision-making process on how best to invest the PSTAA dollars in a way that would have the greatest impact. It also helped us identify our target population – students in vulnerable and underserved populations, including children and youth of color; children and youth from families at or below two hundred percent of the federal poverty level; children and youth who are homeless, in the foster care system, in the child welfare system, or are involved in the juvenile justice system; children and youth with disabilities; children and youth who identify as LGBTQ; or otherwise vulnerable children and youth.

Council staff gathered further information for us to consider by conducting fourteen subject matter expert interviews and facilitating twenty-one community listening sessions throughout King County. The research combined with the community input gathered eventually led to the development of the motion we passed last month that allocates funding to roughly three major education areas — early learning, K-12, and post-secondary.

Finding a way to proportionately allocate these funds across the educational continuum was a real challenge. My goal, which was shared by many of my colleagues, was to make sure these limited funds have a significant impact while they are available. That’s why it was important for us to ensure the funds were not spread out too thin (peanut butter approach) and did not pay for programs that should be the responsibility of the state or public education system.

Here’s how the motion allocates PSTAA funds over the next fifteen years:

  • Early Learning ($153 million, 52%) – Across the region there is a dearth of early learning facilities, especially in what are referred to as early learning and child care access deserts. New funding for early learning is rolling in at the state-level. However, there is not enough space to house the programming needed to meet the needs of our county’s children. Early learning advocates and their partners were able to successfully lobby the state legislature to allow counties to use PSTAA funds for building facilities and not just programs. This effort resulted in roughly 52 percent of PSTAA funds being invested in early learning. The bulk of these funds go toward building early learning facilities with a small fraction being directed to licensed in-home care providers for small capital improvements.
  • King County Promise ($112 million, 38%) – During the 2019 legislative session, the state made historic investments in post-secondary affordability. But tuition is only a part of why many young people in our community are not able to access post-secondary opportunities or complete a degree that can lead to a lifelong career. In fact, the post-secondary attainment rate in King County is 40 percent and that number is much worse in other parts of the county populated by traditionally marginalized communities. To help ensure more young people — especially from communities of color — achieve post-secondary success, this proposal drives nearly 40 percent of the PSTAA funds to support the development and launch of a King County Promise program that will deliver individualized support and counseling to students beginning in middle school and continuing all the way to post-secondary completion. This program will dramatically increase the number of adults working in high-poverty schools and post-secondary institutions to assist students in navigating the complex college admissions process, access scholarships and grants that otherwise may have been left on the table and provide support so students in post-secondary have the tools necessary to complete their certification or pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship program.
  • Community Based Organizations K-12 ($29 million, 10%) — Throughout this process, I firmly believed that we would be missing a major opportunity if we were not to target significant funding toward communities and people who have been traditionally left behind. And, we know that community-based organizations rooted in these communities are well equipped to deliver what their communities need to achieve generational change. This portion of funding will go toward community-based organizations supporting children — especially from vulnerable populations — kindergarten through twelfth grade. Most of this support will come during out of school time to help students achieve continual academic success and avoid pitfalls, and to close the opportunity gap.

Perhaps most important, the PSTAA motion includes language recognizing that institutional racism leads to persistent educational achievement and opportunity gaps. It further identifies that emphasis should be placed on supporting children, youth and families of color by organizations with staff and leadership that have relevant lived experience or expertise in this area to reduce severe racial achievement gaps throughout the K-12 system.

These funded strategies will be evaluated based on reducing educational achievement gaps for the targeted populations as measured by kindergarten readiness, high school graduation rates, postsecondary program acceptance rates, and postsecondary degree or certification completion.

The executive branch will now work with Council staff, stakeholders and the community to develop an implementation plan. This plan is requested to be transmitted by the Executive to the Council within eight months.

It is important for us to evaluate the way these funds are spent so we know they are having the intended impact needed to improve outcomes across all spectrum of educational development.

To read the motion in its entirety, please click the following link: https://kingcounty.gov/~/media/Council/documents/2019/2019-0245.ashx?la=en

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