by Ali Cohen
The key to addressing the challenges faced by underserved student populations lies in increased funding and coordinated efforts among the legislature, our public institutions, and community. One promising solution that is gaining traction is the concept of equity-focused funding. This innovative approach seeks to provide additional resources and support to students from underserved communities, ensuring they have the necessary tools to thrive academically.
One variation of equity-focused funding is that of King County Promise, a program that aims to make college education accessible and affordable for all students in King County. To meet this goal, King County leveraged The Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account, or “PSTAA funds.” This was established by the Washington State Legislature in 2015 and funded by a sales and use tax offset fee of 3.25% of payments made by the Sound Transit 3 project to be used to improve educational outcomes. In 2019, the King County Council refined the purpose to address current gaps in the local education landscape and to improve educational outcomes for historically underserved youth by focusing on access to early learning facilities, culturally relevant youth programs, and college and career access and support. As a result, King County has awarded over $8 million in competitive grants process to support King County Promise programming and system coordination.
This model deviates from other popular post-secondary models in that it provides funding to the institution to facilitate structural changes that will affect students’ educational experience over time rather than potentially finite funding to be applied toward tuition. Additionally, the County, facilitators, and funding stream contribute to a democratic process and line of communication between service providers and community.
Another notable example of the impact of equity-focused funding can be seen in recent legislative changes regarding youth reengagement programs at youth detention facilities. These changes allowed for the institutional (i.e., prison) schools and the youth reengagement program to each be funded per student rather than splitting the allocation per pupil across the two agencies. This essentially doubles the funding per student and allows for each agency to provide its own respective services. This funding model has demonstrated success, with more graduates in the past academic year at Echo Glen’s detention facility than in the past four years combined. The equity-focused funding ensures the agencies are appropriately resourced to execute their mission. Schools, for example, can use the funding to hire staff and offer more courses and programs that meet the specific needs of their students.
It is crucial to acknowledge that considering equity-focused funding as extra or additional funding can be misleading. In reality, many of these programs operate at a deficit because of the disparity between the funding they receive and the actual demand for their services. A prime example is special education, adult high school completion, and English Language Learning, programs that receive a type of equity-focused funding. However, these programs often face caps or limitations on the funds they receive, resulting in a situation where the allocated resources are exhausted long before the need for services diminishes. This funding shortfall can lead to compromised support and opportunities for students who require specialized assistance. Therefore, it is essential to recognize the existing discrepancies in funding and advocate for sustained and equitable resources that truly meet the needs of all students throughout their educational journeys.
To ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of equity-focused funding initiatives, it is essential to implement these recommendations at both the state and local levels. The state legislature plays a crucial role in prioritizing and allocating funds toward equity-focused initiatives in education. Continued support and prioritization in legislative budgets are necessary to drive meaningful change and ensure the long-term success of these initiatives. Simultaneously, institutions and nonprofit organizations at the local level have a responsibility to actively engage and collaborate to foster equity in education.
Larger public institutions, such as school districts and colleges, which may have operated autonomously in the past, need to recognize their responsibility in building partnerships with nonprofit organizations, community-based entities, and municipalities. These partnerships provide valuable resources, insights, and localized knowledge that can significantly enhance the impact of equity-focused funding. By proactively engaging with these organizations, institutions can foster collective responsibility and ensure the sustainability of these initiatives beyond initial implementation. State-level support from the legislature provides the necessary funding and policy frameworks and federal advocacy while local institutions and nonprofit organizations contribute to the practical implementation and community engagement. By aligning efforts at both levels, we can reimagine education toward equity and create a system that provides equal opportunities for all learners.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Ali Cohen is a public school administrator working across youth reengagement, adult high school completion, and English language instruction.
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!