The New Year brings a new legislative session, with new challenges and new opportunities for Washington’s kids.
In order to make sure kids are put at the center of government’s concern this year, it’s helpful to know who holds power, and how, in the State capitol.
The fall 2014 elections resulted in a state Senate majority of 25 Republicans and a minority of 24 Democrats. In the House, a 51-member Democratic majority holds power, while Republicans hold the remaining 47 seats.
Each elected representative works within the political party of his or her choice. Within the House and Senate, these parties meet as a unit. They are called caucuses. The caucus is a closed forum for discussing ideas and proposing action. One Senate Democrat, Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch), chooses to meet in his Republican colleagues’ caucus. This is the Majority Coalition Caucus.
Legislators plan their work in caucus, and they work their plans in the House and Senate committees. When one caucus enjoys a majority of the legislators in either body, that caucus appoints the legislators of its choosing to positions of leadership in each committee.
What does this mean for kids and families?
We have multiple opportunities to move kids and families forward this session. Lawmakers are focused on fulfilling our Constitutional obligation to opportunity for our kids. There’s broad support for new investments in early learning. The governor wants to feed more kids at the start of the school day. We have to fulfill the promise to our children by surrounding them with the supports they need to grow up strong. They need quality experiences from birth to 5; outside of school, they need preventive dental and medical care and healthy, affordable food.
None of this is a given. It’ll take revenue that’s been thwarted by our state’s outdated, upside-down tax structure. It’ll take a careful assessment of how to make sure the kids furthest from opportunity move the greatest distance toward it. But it’s time we faced up to the fact that we are the adults that Washington’s kids need.
Nearly 1 in 3 Washington residents today is a person of color, and children lead the demographic changes across the country and here at home. Most Americans born today are Americans of color—they grow up in a cultural context that’s seldom shared by members of our state Legislature, who are more likely to be older, whiter and more often male than their parents. Out of 147 state legislators, just one is African American. When the life experiences of those in office doesn’t resemble those they represent, advocacy is all the more necessary.
One of the greatest threats our children face is the mindset that we must take money from the state’s non-educational programs in order to fund education. As we have said previously, that’s the wrong approach. In order to learn, children need the food and nutrition, the economic stability, the early care and health care that keeps them in school, body and mind. We oppose cuts or caps on the funding of non-educational services and support revenue-raising alternatives.
Advocacy is a necessary part of our democracy. Each elected official takes an oath to serve the people of his or her district—whether or not their political views coincide. Parents and community leaders can speak up with confidence, knowing that he or she is there to listen to you, to consider carefully, and then to act.
Happy New Year. Together, let’s make 2015 a great year for Washington’s kids.