Microsoft’s surprisingly bold engagement on Washington state policy issues is welcome, especially this year.
MICROSOFT is taking its regional public service to a new level with the release of an ambitious legislative agenda for Washington state.
Under its president, Brad Smith, the company has increasingly advocated for education, transportation and economic development.
With the new agenda Smith published online recently, the Redmond company is going further and supporting progressive policies that would benefit the entire state.
Most welcome is a proposal to address concerns about unfairness in the criminal-justice system. Microsoft offered to help the state and law enforcement develop new technology tools, such as better systems for gathering and analyzing police data.
Recognizing that the entire state has unmet needs, the company is broadening its agenda beyond the Puget Sound area. One of its policy goals is to ease restrictions on public-private partnerships providing broadband in rural areas.
Best of all, Microsoft is offering to help incubate and partly fund several new programs to get them launched.
This sets a great example for other major companies. Public engagement is especially welcome during a historic year of policymaking, when advocacy is needed to help lawmakers finally address the state’s education-funding crisis without losing sight of other challenges.
Washington’s struggle to fully fund basic education is a concern for Microsoft and every other company that needs quality schools to produce and attract good employees.
Smith praised K-12 schools, teachers and state officials for making good progress over the last decade, including raising graduation rates. But he believes more improvements and better outcomes are necessary.
Getting there may require more taxes, he acknowledged, and Microsoft looks forward to “rolling up our sleeves and participating in a constructive way.” It would help even more if Microsoft endorsed one of the revenue options on the table, such as a limited capital-gains tax.
Better career training is vital, and Microsoft also wants to help the state make improvements. It’s asking for increases in computer-science degree programs and the state Opportunity Scholarship program, to which it already donated $35 million.
The company is supporting Gov. Inslee’s plan to test a new vocational program modeled on Switzerland’s system. This would focus on youth and be integrated into high schools; current apprenticeships are mostly for older students. Microsoft offered to help fund this pilot project.
This model was encouraged by Suzi LeVine, a former Microsoft manager who learned about it while serving as President Obama’s ambassador to Switzerland.
Washington state’s policies restricting education for its prisoners are backward and contribute to recidivism. Microsoft is calling for providing inmates at state prisons with training in digital literacy, coding and productivity tools.
This would complement proposals, such as HB 1129, to increase associate-degree programs in prisons. Microsoft is willing to help fund a pilot program, which could become a national model.
Microsoft is working on behalf of its shareholders, of course, and may profit directly or indirectly from programs it’s suggesting.
Even so, the public benefits from such corporate citizens providing thoughtful and supportive engagement on critical policy issues.