by Erin Okuno
With COVID-19 surging, a recession, unemployment in King County at 14%, and the renewed call for justice and equity for BIPOC lives, it’s an important year to pay attention to local as well as national elections. While the country is focused on the November presidential election, Washingtonians would do well to focus on some very consequential local elections coming much sooner.
Washington State’s 2020 primary election is on August 4. Citizens should focus their efforts on exercising the power of the ballot locally and vote in the primary. Those who are not able to vote can still participate in voter education, support candidates, and help get out the vote.
Here in Washington, there are statewide and local races that will have broad-ranging impacts on COVID-19 recovery, including how schools adapt to COVID-19, how Washington progresses in the phased reopening of schools, and how we adapt to new challenges as we move through the recovery process — and all of this will need to be done with a growing awareness that institutional racism is deeply embedded in our policies, practices, and beliefs.
Education in Washington is a basic right. The State Constitution states: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders … ” As elected state officials, the governor and other legislators must work to provide an “ample” education for children within the state. This year, with the forced changes because of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, it is important for us to elect people who will uphold our values around education. And, in Washington, only the top two candidates in August will be on the general election ballot in November. There are several key races that will greatly impact education, including:
- Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Representatives for Legislature: 37th District, Position 2 (an open position to replace longtime Representative Eric Pettigrew)
Some of the challenges facing the education sector right now are:
- Childcare and early learning — Without childcare and early learning services, many working parents are juggling work and childcare. The early learning sector is vital to ensuring we have a robust economy. While many childcare centers stayed open during the pandemic, many others closed early due to safety concerns, low enrollment, or for other reasons. The sector will need support to reopen safely.
- K–12 — The K-12 education sector is figuring out how to reopen safely amongst COVID-19 restrictions. Schools will have to figure out how to reopen amongst health and safety concerns, the challenges of remote learning tools and program implementation, how to serve English learners, special education students, families who are homeless, etc. Federal and state guidance is needed to help secure funding and priority setting for school districts.
- Higher education — Higher education will face massive budget hits as state revenue will take a blow. For now, President Trump has backed off his recent proclamation that international students who do not attend in-person classes could be deported. Colleges and universities were quick to protest and point out that international students pay significantly higher tuition than local students. In any case, the college experience is very different than it was nine months ago. State leaders will need to make budgetary decisions to keep our higher education system robust.
- Digital connectivity — Many students still don’t have internet access. As learning has rapidly moved online, the disproportionality of the digital divide has become more obvious. The state will need to invest quickly to ensure families have access to important services like high-speed internet so students can learn and stay connected to teachers.
Register to vote here.
If you moved since the last time you voted, you will need to update your voter registration information, go to kingcounty.org.
Erin Okuno is the executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), a coalition of community-based organizations, schools, educators, community leaders, parents and caregivers, and concerned Southeast Seattle residents working to improve education for all children, especially those in Southeast Seattle and those farthest away from opportunities.