Editorial: I-1351 complicates mission to help homeless students
The passage of Initiative 1351 does not just tie the hands of state lawmakers. The class-reduction measure also impacts efforts to help the state’s homeless students.
Seattle Times Editorial
A NATIONAL report released this week warns of a surge in the number of children who have no place to sleep at night. Here in Washington state, more than 30,600 school-age kids experience homelessness. That’s a staggering figure from the 2012-2013 academic year that does not even count infants and toddlers.
The recent passage of Initiative 1351will seriously complicate efforts to address the needs of this vulnerable population. A narrow majority of voters bought into the initiative’s promise of smaller classes, but no one has identified a way to pay for the estimated $4.7 billion cost over four years.
That I-1351 mandate is in addition to the Legislature’s obligation under the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling, which orders the state to invest billions more into K-12 education. The serious challenge before lawmakers could end up pitting homeless students against the initiative’s call for building more classrooms and hiring more teachers and administrators.
“For kids who are homeless, it doesn’t matter what their classroom size is if we don’t also support them with affordable housing, health care, nourishment and a safe community,” says Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
Washington ranks 20th in the nation when it comes to the extent of child homelessness and efforts to fight the problem, according to this year’s “America’s Youngest Outcasts” report by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
With such limited resources moving forward, Eisinger suggests it’s critical the Legislature preserve funds in areas proven to prevent homelessness and to increase investments in the supply of affordable housing long-term, such as the Housing Trust Fund. Another important safety net is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, a lifeline that helps parents get back on their feet with cash, medical and job-finding assistance.
“We see when there’s a national disaster, communities spring into action,” Eisinger says. “This is a policy-made disaster that we have to respond to with that same level of urgency.”
Whether it’s through reforms or new revenue, lawmakers must find a way to balance the budget. It’s becoming more clear Initiative 1351 won’t make that task any easier for lawmakers or homeless kids.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).