Opinion Columns & Blogs

Lawmakers should reshape budget to help communities of color

As conversations about the state budget continue, legislators should assess how the budget can provide shared prosperity for all Washingtonians. To make that happen, budget priorities must help ensure communities of color have the same opportunities to thrive as everyone else.

Today, that’s not happening.

Since the recession, continued cuts in Washington’s investment in schools, safe communities, and other economic building blocks have hurt everyone. But the impact has been especially damaging to communities of color. As our recent Facing Race report – a call to action from over 50 organizations – found, Washington’s communities of color face wide-ranging economic inequities. This is the result of longstanding policy failures.

In the area of the budget under the biggest spotlight – the education system – the inequities that result from a lack of resources and opportunities include:

• Nearly three of every four Latino children aren’t enrolled in preschool.

• American Indian, Pacific Islander, black, and Latino students lag behind others in meeting third-grade reading standards.

• Soaring tuition costs at public universities have impacted completion rates for students of color, many of whom are graduating at rates below the state average.

This opportunity gap in education can cause students to fall behind in the classroom and throughout life. Lack of investment in children impacts their lifelong outcomes related to health, personal development, and eventually employment.

The situation is the same for other important measures of well-being for Washingtonians. The gains since the economic recovery are simply not being shared equally. This affects everything from people’s ability to get medical care to their financial security.

So what can budget-writers do?

With respect to education, they should fund additional preschool slots and implement the Early Start Act to enhance access and quality of early education. In addition to court-mandated investments, they must invest in services outside the classroom to ensure students show up ready to learn – like health care, food assistance, and public transportation. In higher education, lawmakers should increase financial aid for students with lower-incomes.

The House’s proposed budget, which increases investment through proposals like the capital gains tax, is a good starting point. But legislation is also needed to eliminate racial inequities. Senators Pramila Jayapal and Bob Hasegawa each proposed bills this session to advance racial equity and social justice in policy decision-making. Such legislation should be adopted across all areas of the budget. Unfortunately, those bills didn’t pass.

The budget disparities that hold back many Washingtonians didn’t happen overnight. They are the result of decisions made over time along racial and class lines. It’s time for legislators to turn that around. Racial equity is morally right and right for Washington’s economy. As our population becomes more multiracial and multiethnic, lawmakers’ budget decisions must seek equitable outcomes for everyone. It is a crucial step toward progress and long-overdue change.