Op-Ed

State voters should approve Ref. 88 to give opportunity to all

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When I was elected the superintendent of the state’s public education system, I became responsible for the success of every child in Washington’s K-12 schools – in 295 unique school districts and 6 tribal education-compact schools across the state. Every day I go to work to make sure that students who graduate from our public-school system have an equal opportunity to succeed in their post-secondary education or career pursuits.

But no matter how hard I work as superintendent, there are some barriers I can’t possibly help students overcome once they enter the workforce, which is why I’m voting to approve Initiative 1000, which will appear under the heading of Referendum 88 on the Nov. 5 ballot this year.

Initiative 1000 seeks to undo the harmful legacy created by the 1998 passage of Initiative 200, which effectively outlawed affirmative action policies in Washington state. At that time, our state became one of only two states in the nation to put such a ban in place, revoking its public commitment to ensure all students had a fair shot at success after they completed their K-12 education.

In the 20 years since I-200, the impacts have been measurable – and disheartening. The number of state contracts going to woman- and minority-owned businesses have dropped from an average 10% each year to 3% — which represents a $3.5 billion loss in revenue over time.

The number of black, native American, and Pacific Islander students attending our state’s four-year public universities continues to lag behind their representation in proportion to the composition of our state as a whole.

The fact of the matter is, in Washington, as in most of the rest of the country, the number one determinant of a student’s outcome is their address. To put it another way: Where people are born is the most significant factor in determining where they will end up in terms of educational attainment, income level, and other measures of economic stability.

The reason 42 other states around the country have implemented affirmative action policies is to ensure students from less-well-off backgrounds have the same shot at success as their wealthier peers.

Too often, cycles of poverty persist across generations – which is why it’s important we do everything we can to make sure that students are able to succeed on their own merits, not as a condition of whether or not they were born into a family that lives in a better resourced neighborhood. Voting to approve I-1000 will help restore fairness and equal access to the abundance of economic opportunities our state has to offer.

In today’s working world, discrimination persists not just across race but across gender. According to the most recent census data, women in Washington state make, on average, 78 cents to every dollar a man makes. While some individual companies have started to take on gender pay equity initiatives, something that should be applauded, the rate and frequency at which women ascend to higher levels of corporate leadership still lags behind men. As a state, we can and should do better. Many working families rely on income from multiple sources to make it month to month. The wage gap hurts not just individual households, but whole communities.

When my daughter grows up, I want her to have the opportunity to earn just as much as my son, and I know that shared prosperity will benefit them both.

Voting to approve I-1000 will open up more opportunities in public employment, contracting, and university admissions for all Washingtonians — and will allow us to rejoin the 42 other states in the country that have made a public commitment to ensure fairness and equal access to economic success for all their citizens.

I hope you’ll join me in voting to approve I-1000 and supporting the shared values that make our state such a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Chris Reykdal is the Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
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