As state lawmakers seek efficient ways to support public-school students after a year of academic disruption, they should look first to two proven programs that zero in on critical student populations, yielding extraordinary results.

Modest increases in funding for the Graduation Success and Ninth Grade On-Track programs would allow each to expand, yielding big improvements in educational outcomes for Washington students. It would be a worthy investment in Washington’s future and a wise use of public funds.

Treehouse’s Graduation Success program provides resources, support and accountability to foster youth, students who, statistically, face steep odds to graduation. Nationally, only around 50% of youth in foster care graduate from high school. More than 90% of the 628 members of the class of 2020 served by the educational nonprofit’s program in King County last year were on track to graduate before the pandemic hit.

But the program, which receives more than half of its funding from philanthropies that include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is only available in 50 school districts around the state. A $5 million investment over the next biennium would enable Treehouse to bring this life-changing program to all foster-care youth in the state.

Similarly, the Ninth Grade On-Track program has led to exciting improvements for high-school freshmen during what has been called a “make-or-break” academic year. The pilot program was launched in 2019 as a collaboration between the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Center for High School Success.

For the pocket-size investment of $125,000 a year, the program trained “success teams” of teachers, administrators, counselors and support staff who could identify and support 9th graders in danger of falling behind. Early data show that most pilot schools saw double-digit increases in the percentage of students on track for graduation. An $8 million commitment over the next biennium would expand this program to 80 additional high schools, advocates say.

The state budgeting process always involves trade-offs and tough decisions as lawmakers look for ways to spend public dollars to advance the public good. But boosting investments in these two programs should be an easy call.