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Families and Edu Levy Needs Renewal- And Fixing

June 29, 2011

Mayor McGinn’s administration is working hard to convince voters to renew the Families and Education Levy, which was first approved in 1990.  The levy is touted as a means for students and families to receive support services in and outside of school they otherwise wouldn’t receive.

Levy funds are used for pre-kindergarten and after school programs, physical and mental health services, Family Support Workers- the list goes on.

In a district with a budget deficit that only seems to grow each year, the levy- which is controlled by the city and not SPS- is critical to funding services and programs the district otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. To lose it would be disastrous. No one wants that.

But in terms of serving students and families in need through the levy, the city has willfully fallen short in critical areas.

Here’s an example: Under the direction of the Department of Education and the Levy Oversight Board, Family Support Workers saw their ability to support any student and family in need of services virtually revoked.

It used to be that if Timmy in the 3rd grade needed eye glasses to see (thus learn) properly, or his parents needed a referral to a food bank because mom or dad (or both) lost their jobs during the economic downturn, all they had to do was ask for help and they would get it. Timmy could get the glasses he needed to function in class (and life); his parents would be able to put food on the table for Timmy and his brothers and sisters, providing nutritious meals which also help Timmy function in school (and life).

Somewhere along the line, in the face of critical objections and advocacy to the contrary, the city opted to restrict who Family Support Workers could help, and why- and much of it hinged on state test scores.  Suddenly non-educators became responsible for kids passing the state’s standardized tests. Which meant instead of serving all students, FSW’s were given a small caseload of students and families to support- based on test scores.

Timmy might need glasses, his family might be starving, but if Timmy didn’t almost pass the MSP last year he and his family are SOL.

The city effectively decided, to be in need was not enough- that students and their families are only worthy of support based on test scores. It’s a rationale that has left thousands of families in Seattle without the help they need and deserve.

It would be great if these families could simply go elsewhere for services, but let’s be real; human services agencies are struggling to address increased need and higher caseloads in the continuing economic downturn coupled with unconscionable funding cuts at the city, county, state and federal levels; there isn’t anywhere else for students and families to go.

The levy should be approved by voters…and it should be fixed by the city.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Isabel Munoz-Colon permalink
    July 5, 2011 9:54 am

    Hi Sable,

    My name is Isabel Muñoz-Colón and I am the new Program and Policy Advisor for English Language Learners and Family Support. The purpose of the FSW Program is to work with children and their families to remove non-academic barriers with the outcome that students will be more successful in school.

    A number of students who are academically struggling (ex: high absenteeism and below grade level in reading and math) and who have been found to have some non-academic barriers to learning (ex: homelessness, in foster care, or new to country) are selected for intense case management at the beginning of the school year. Services could include, helping parents connect with the Department of Health and Human Services, identifying tutoring programs for students, connect families to mental health services, and providing clothes, backpacks and food to students. The City, at the end of the year, then looks at the data to see if the support FSWs provided helped families engage with the school, reduce student absenteeism, and ultimately improve academic gains for some students.

    Students and their families coming later in the school year are still offered services. So if a new student needs glasses, like your example of Timmy, I know of at least one Family Support Worker who will make sure that child gets the glasses he needs to be successful in school. If Timmy’s needs go beyond getting glasses, it is very likely that he will be identified as requiring more intensive case management the next school year.

    It is not perfect system. I will be working with the FSWs to see if there are better ways to triage and meet the needs of students and their families. For example, finding ways to expand the network of organizations FSWs use to refer families that need assistance. There is a lot of work to be done and we must be creative in trying to effictively serve families.

    Isabel Muñoz-Colón

  2. July 7, 2011 6:44 am

    Great information. It is best to understand the people who are truly in need and worth to have a good eduction.

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