8 Things to Remember from 2019

David Bley
Dec 17, 2019 · 8 min read

The end of the year — and the end of this decade — are a time to reflect and consider what we’ve accomplished and how much more we have to do.

We are, as always, a work in progress — but our goals remain the same. We believe that every child should have a chance to reach their full potential, no matter what they look like or where they come from. But our education and economic systems haven’t been working well for everyone, and it will take real collaboration with local leaders in the communities most affected by injustice to drive meaningful, lasting change. As we move forward into the next decade, we are committed to continue learning what works and what doesn’t — working together to end racial inequality and advance a more just society with shared responsibility and shared prosperity, for all.

With that, here’s what our Washington State team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been up to this year.

1. We pushed ourselves to walk the talk on racial equity.

The truth is that we cannot achieve our goal of ensuring every child has a chance to reach their full potential without addressing racial inequity, implicit bias, and structural barriers to opportunities and outcomes. Add to this a broader national context where racism, sexism, harassment, and bullying have become more explicit. It is long past time for us to address these issues as a nation and in our communities. And we know that we cannot authentically talk about race equity in our philanthropic efforts without first taking a race-conscious look at ourselves, individually, and as a team.

With the help of Equity Matters, and building on prior years work with the National Equity Project and the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, we continue to push ourselves to consider our own biases, from hiring practices to how we seek out grantee partners. We’re trying new ways of operationalizing an equity lens, including adding race equity questions to our internal processes for grant proposals and review. While this work must be thoughtful, it must also be urgent — we have to accelerate progress on racial equity — because every year and every interaction matter to the children we seek to support.

2. We looked back on 15 years of advancing early learning in Washington State.

This year, we collected lessons learned from 15 years of supporting families and children with high-quality pre-K and educational opportunities. The case study, In Pursuit of Quality, celebrates the partnerships, research, data systems, and paradigm shifts that brought us to where we are today.

One of our top four lessons learned is to invest in advocacy, and for the 2019 legislative session, we applaud the Early Learning Action Alliance for moving state lawmakers to invest over $75 million in new state operating dollars for early childhood education programs, and an additional $28.5 million in new capital funds for early learning classrooms and buildings.

This session’s legislative appropriation means 1,170 more children will have access to public pre-K, 840 more families will receive home visits from trained professionals who can answer questions and offer resources, and reimbursement rates for child care and pre-K will come closer to the actual cost of wages, overhead, and providing quality care.

As a state and a community, we have made major progress on expanding early learning, and it will continue to be a priority for years to come.

3. We doubled-down on the Road Map Region with networks for math and S.E.A.D.

Schools are natural hubs for connections with families, community leaders, and afterschool and summer educational programs. That’s why we’re building Local Improvement Networks with specific elementary schools in the Road Map Project region of South King County. We’re celebrating completion of the first year of work in Renton, launch of the Tukwila network, and planning for a new network in Seattle.

Our partner elementary schools are dedicated to shared goals and collaborative action with families and community organizations, using data to drive improvements and strengthening leadership at the school and district levels to sustain improvements. With the leadership of schools and communities, we are building stronger support to help end racial inequities K-5 math outcomes.

We focus on early math because research shows that it unlocks potential in other academic subjects. We also know math achievement is linked to milestones like high school graduation and college entrance. But it’s not just about math — we believe that by integrating social, emotional, and academic development, a student’s social-emotional skills and overall academic skills will improve.

By collaborating with all the adults in a child’s life — families, teachers, counselors, mentors — we can positively affect social, emotional, and academic development — at home, at school, and in their neighborhoods and communities.

4. We celebrated nearly 100% college acceptance for the first class of public charter school graduates.

The very first class of public charter school students graduated this year — with nearly 100% college acceptance from Summit Olympus in Tacoma and Summit Sierra in Seattle’s International District. These charter school graduates and their families studied hard through a real-life civics lesson, actively standing up for their schools through two lawsuits, mass media coverage, and contentious legislative sessions — these students and families are leaders in every sense of the word.

It’s been seven years since voters approved public charter schools as an option for Washington students and families, and the sector has faced many challenges, from misperceptions about what charter schools do, to unequal funding — because charters are not allowed to access local levy funds or public facilities funding. Four charter schools closed this year, citing expenses as a key factor, and falling short of demonstrating a commitment to both quality and accountability. But nine public charter schools remain open and, serving diverse students with impressive results — like Rainier Prep middle school in Seattle, Impact Elementary in Tukwila, and Pride Prep middle and high school in Spokane. Seven of those nine have waiting lists in at least one grade — showing parent and student demand for these options. We expect five more public charter schools to open in Fall 2020, nine groups intend to apply for possible 2021 openings, and, as a vote of confidence, the Washington State Charter Schools Association recently received a $20 million federal grant to help new schools get off the ground.

We can’t wait to see what these new graduates will do.

5. We kept our college promise.

This year, lawmakers agreed on the value of a postsecondary education — making it a budget and policy priority in the 2019 legislative session.

The Workforce Education Investment Act, passed by the 2019 state legislature, is increasing investment in higher education by more than $1 billion over the next four years. That means more students will have access to financial aid, high demand degree programs like nursing and engineering, STEM, student support programs that increase completion (Guided Pathways), and career connected learning.

In addition, the King County Council included more than $112 million for the King County Promise, which will provide financial aid, guidance counseling, and system improvements for the transition between K-12 and college.

These two successes were a direct result of the dedicated organizing, communications, and advocacy of the College Promise Coalition, creating an environment where higher education is not just a student and family priority, but a whole state’s budget and policy priority.

6. We declared that We Are (Still) In on solutions to housing and homelessness.

Since 2000, we’ve been investing in affordable housing, better data systems, and coordinated intake, like the 211 hotline in King County. The housing first approach has become a generally accepted solution, with a goal of first stabilizing people in housing and then addressing other needs like addiction services or job training. Common sense tactics like diversion are saving public dollars by offering short-term, flexible financial support to help a person pay a rental deposit or fix their car to get to a job.

We learned that even the best strategies to address family homelessness struggle against greater societal factors that lead to more people losing their homes. To help meet immediate needs, we’ve increased our support for shelters and food banks, while also investing in housing solutions and community development to address long-term needs.

We see people who are working hard but still losing their homes, we see rising rents and people living unsheltered and cold, we see students and families struggling to get enough food to eat, and people in dire of need of supports to address mental health and addiction — and we urge you to understand that these problems can be solved. Together with local philanthropies, businesses, non-profits, and service providers, we declare that We Are In on policy solutions that will improve housing and homelessness efforts across our entire region — until every person has a safe and stable place to call home.

7. We showed up, here, there, and everywhere.

Seattle is home to 1,200 foundation employees who are active in their communities as parents, volunteers, and individual donors — giving about $5 million each year to their choice of locally based nonprofits like Mary’s Place, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Treehouse, and Westside Baby.

To encourage our employees to support causes they care about, we triple match every personal donation and set aside time for employees to volunteer or serve on a board. With a 3:1 dollar match, and $25/hour volunteer time match, employees’ $5 million in donations generates an additional $15 million for local community-based organizations.

Cohorts of employees also come together twice a year to nominate, vet, meet, and decide on smaller-dollar grants for community-based organizations like Open Arms Perinatal Services, Langston, Yoga Behind Bars, Kitsap Immigration Center, Dignity for Divas, Seattle Against Slavery, and Entre Hermanos.

And, in Seattle, we sponsored nearly 100 non-profit fundraising lunches and events, giving employees a chance to recruit attendees and show up in person for the organizations they choose. Through sponsorships, we granted about $484,000 to organizations like Totem Star, Social Justice Fund, Global Visionaries, Solid Ground, Techbridge Girls, and the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

There are so many hardworking non-profits in our home region, and we’re proud that our employees seek out ways to live the value of giving.

8. We made it easier for you to find out more.

At the beginning of 2019, we launched a website dedicated entirely to our work in the Gates Foundation’s home state of Washington, and we’re keeping it updated with all our latest resources, grants, and information about how we work.

I hope you’ll take a minute to explore our site, give me a follow on Twitter and Medium, and sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay up-to-date on our work.

At the end of this year, this decade, and our 20 years of showing up as the home team for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we thank you for all that you do.

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