by Elizabeth Whitford, CEO of School’s Out Washington, Jessica Werner, Executive Director of Youth Development Executives of King County, Erin Okuno, Executive Director of Southeast Seattle Education Coalition
It is an exciting time for children, youth, and families in Seattle. The future holds promise with a new superintendent, city government and the school district working more closely together, and community support for critical educational programs. However, Seattle Public Schools still faces many challenges in its commitment to closing opportunity gaps and ensuring excellence in education for every student.
The rapid increase in family homelessness, persistent opportunity and achievement gaps for children of color, and a state spending plan that will ultimately limit the district’s ability to raise money to fully address these needs are a few of the critical issues facing our district and community.
Since 1990, the City of Seattle’s Family and Education (FEPP) Levy has supported Seattle’s children and youth through after-school and summer programs, additional support staff during the school day, onsite health centers to provide direct access to dental and physical health care, and more. Since 2014, the Seattle Preschool Program has delivered high quality preschool programming to more than 1,500 children, helping them to become kindergarten ready.
This year, under Mayor Durkan’s plan, both expiring levies will be combined to form the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise Levy to give kids an early start, then sustain the gains through K-12 education, and ensure that high school seniors can access college through “Seattle’s Promise.”
Children and youth need engaging, active opportunities to develop social, emotional, and academic skills in order to grow up healthy and resilient. When we provide positive supports early on, we can avoid more costly interventions later in life.
Employers are also saying they want more emphasis on building “soft skills” such as critical thinking, communication skills, and applied knowledge in real world settings. As organizations who work closely with community-based nonprofits we also see a need for our children, especially children of color, to develop positive self-identity through a community context. Expanded learning opportunities offered before and after school, and during the summer are essential supports that allow for the teaching of “soft skills” in culturally relevant contexts.
Afterschool, summer, and other enrichment opportunities are currently not available to all students, and children who would benefit the most are often unable to afford these opportunities. A 2013 report by ExpandED Schools calculated that by 6th grade, a typical student from a middle-income family will have received 6,000 hours of additional learning time compared to their peers from low-income families, two-thirds of which can be attributed to disparities in access to after-school and summer learning opportunities. This levy will provide funding to help low-income families access these expanded learning opportunities, helping to close this untenable opportunity gap.
This is just one example of how the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy is critical to ensuring Seattle’s kids are fully prepared to take advantage of all our city has to offer. Our city should take pride in creating opportunities for children and youth to thrive both in and out of school, from preschool through graduation. Let’s make sure these opportunities are available for years to come as we build healthy, vibrant Seattle communities. As leaders committed to advancing equity and opportunity for children and youth, we ask you to please vote for the FEPP levy on the November ballot.
School’s Out Washington: www.schoolsoutwashington.org
School’s Out Washington is a statewide organization with a mission of providing services and guidance for organizations to ensure all young people have safe places to learn and grown. SOWA is dedicated to building community systems to support quality afterschool, youth development and summer programs for Washington’s children and youth ages 5 through young adulthood.
Youth Development Executives of King County: www.ydekc.org
Youth Development Executives of King County (YDEKC) is a coalition of youth-serving organizations working together to improve outcomes for young people in our region, building the youth development field to provide these opportunities and promote equity. YDEKC does this through advocacy, collaboration, and leadership development.
Southeast Seattle Education Coalition: www.sesecwa.org
Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) is a coalition of Community Based Organizations (CBOs), schools, educators, community leaders, parents and caregivers, and concerned SE Seattle residents working to improve education for all children, especially those in SE Seattle and those farthest away from opportunities.
Featured Photo Courtesy Southeast Seattle Education Coalition