Job centers on high school campuses. More money to hire teachers of color. Mentors for students.
Over the past two months, the Metropolitan King County Council has heard countless ideas from the public on how it should spend $318 million on education — a one-time windfall provided through a fee on Sound Transit construction contracts.
And the possibilities are nearly endless, because the only string attached is the requirement that council members use that money to improve academic outcomes in early learning, K-12 schools and higher education. Dozens of students, parents, educators and community members have packed council chambers in recent weeks to make a case that their particular passion project deserves a slice of the funding pie.
Rather than spreading the money across many different projects and programs, council members seem to prefer funneling the $318 million to a few specific proposals that might generate a bigger impact. And on Aug. 28, the council could vote to whittle down the list of ideas to two main priorities: building new facilities for early learning and home-based child-care programs, and supporting K-12 students to and through college and other programs after high school.
In late July, the council’s committee of the whole voted unanimously to move its spending priorities to the full council. The proposal would allocate about $161.8 million for children before they enter kindergarten, and about $132.4 million for supports in K-12 schools and higher education, including trade and apprenticeship programs.
The county could spend the remaining $23.8 million on administration, evaluation and technical support of the funds.
The plan would direct the county to target specific populations, including students with disabilities, children of color, those living in poverty and youth who are homeless or in foster care.
Support for providing a majority of the funds for early learning facilities came from a broad coalition of groups. Many urged council members to spend the time-limited money on construction of new facilities rather than committing to ongoing programs that could disappear when the funding expires in 2034.
“While there are many laudable ways the Council can choose to spend the money,” nearly four dozen supporters wrote in a letter to the council, “this is a once-in-a-generation chance to invest deeply in the early childhood spaces necessary to ensure families in King County have long-term access to high-quality early learning.”
For K-12 schools and higher education, another coalition threw its weight behind a separate proposal called the King County Promise. Their pitch included financial aid, more counselors on high school and college campuses, and stronger partnerships between school districts and institutions of higher education.
Ulysses Quan, a son of a Chinese immigrant, said the King County Promise would help families like his navigate the confusing path from high school to college. He recently graduated from Kent-Meridian High School and described the uncertainty he experienced at the commencement ceremony.
“A lot of us are really scared,” he told council members at a meeting in June. “It comes from a sense of instability (and) all the bureaucracy between trying to find resources like scholarships and other opportunities to help us make the transition (to higher education).”
Quan, who will attend Western Washington University this fall, added, “This really disproportionately affects students of color and the children of immigrants like myself — people who have well-meaning families but families who don’t always have the same ability to advocate and support for their students.”
The committee included the King County Promise in its motion to the full council, and added that 20% of that fund must go to community-based programs that help close opportunity gaps for children in the target populations.
But a group of 16 community-based organizations, calling itself the Racial Equity Coalition, has made a last-minute appeal for the council to provide up to $63.6 million for groups led by people of color.
The group highlighted a report from the United Way of King County that found its funded programs operated by communities of color-based organizations had higher outcomes with youth of color compared to mainstream organizations.
“We work primarily with immigrants and refugees,” said Michael Byun, executive director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service. “Youth in our communities don’t often see role models that look like them, or can empathize with their unique challenges at home and work and school.”