THE PEOPLES PARTY POSITION ON EDUCATION
Nikkita is an educator and teaching artist who works in Seattle Public Schools and serves as a teaching artist for Creative Justice, an organization providing arts-based alternatives to youth incarceration. Her experience has given her important insights into what students, parents, and educators know needs to be accomplished to make our education system serve all students.
Education is often viewed as society’s great equalizer. Unfortunately, this view often rings hollow for many low income students and students of color. Education should help ALL young people realize their potential, solve problems, and actively engage in their communities. However, education has been part of the problem by further exacerbating the existing disparities in our city. Low income youth and youth of color are more likely to be funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline, less likely to be placed on a college-bound track, and less likely to graduate with the tools to succeed than some of their more affluent peers. The result is that some of our youth get tracked into low wage jobs or jails. Nikkita envisions the City of Seattle working to help support ALL youth to not only be successful in their personal lives, but also be empowered changemakers who can help lead our city towards a more equitable future.
Nikkita will leverage Seattle’s resources to support its schools, while leaving decision-making control to the school district. Mayoral control of school districts has been a disaster in cities that have attempted it, leading to decreased democracy and increased privatization, segregation, and school closures disproportionately impacting students of color. In Nikkita’s vision, the City would strongly support the school district by supplementing our currently under-funded services to support a whole child approach for all Seattle’s youth.
FAMILY SUPPORT, INCLUDING SUPPORT FOR HOMELESS STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Position: Seattle Public School’s Family Support program provides essential case management services to our highest need students, including homeless students. Family Support Workers are hired from the communities they serve, and are among the most diverse staffs in the district. Funded primarily through the City of Seattle, the Family Support program funding has been steadily cut over the past several years, despite a sharp increase in the number of homeless students in the district. Cutting services to our most vulnerable youth is unacceptable amidst a homelessness crisis.
Action agenda: Nikkita would restore funding to the Family Support Worker program in order to provide wraparound services to the highest need students in the district.
ALL STUDENTS BELONG INITIATIVE
Position: Across the nation, students with marginalized identities face increasing hardships. Seattle schools need to become beacons of hope and support for these students. In addition, sexual harassment and assault has reached epidemic proportions in our country, and our schools need to be a safe space where every student is free from sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination.
Action agenda: Nikkita will launch the “All Students Belong” initiative to direct the City to partner with the immigrant rights organizations, LGBTQ community groups, women’s rights advocates, and the Seattle Public Schools to develop greater supports for marginalized students. These supports could include funding professional development for teachers to become more effective advocates for these students in the classroom, as well as after school programs designed to provide marginalized students social and emotional support. In addition, the City would work with school officials to strengthen and extend the sanctuary city protections for undocumented immigrants at school.
Position: There is a growing movement to support the teaching of Ethnic Studies in public schools in states like California and Texas and in cities like San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.
The University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Ethnic Studies defines ethnic studies as “the critical and interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States.”
Research has shown that teaching Ethnic Studies increases the school engagement of low income students of color, contributes to their college attainment, and heightens their community engagement. A recent study of students enrolled in Ethnic Studies courses in San Francisco conducted by researchers in the Stanford Graduate School of Education found, “Attendance for those encouraged to enroll in the class increased by 21 percentage points,” and “GPA [increased] by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by 23.”
Action agenda: Nikkita will direct the City to take an active role in supporting Ethnic Studies education in Seattle, potentially through supplemental after school programs, summer “freedom” schools, and further cooperation with the Seattle Schools race and equity initiatives.
Position: Seattle Public Schools was investigated by the Department of Education and found to suspend Black students at four times the rates of white students for the same infractions. From disproportionate discipline rates to hyper-segregated schools, there is a demonstrable need for measures to support, rather than punish, students of color.
Restorative alternatives to punitive discipline focus on repairing and rebuilding relationships when they are breached, learning from mistakes, and taking the time and care needed to establish deep bonds among school community members. Restorative justice is not a quick fix to the deep institutionalized racism driving disproportionate discipline. Rather, effective and sustainable restorative practices in schools depends on building community, rooting it in social justice curriculum, and integrating classroom practices with school-wide efforts to improve culture and climate.
Action agenda: Nikkita will direct the City of Seattle to support restorative practices in schools by offering funding opportunities for schools and partner organizations to develop staff knowledge and skills to implement individual and school-wide restorative justice practices, policies, and systems.
ARTS AND CULTURE
Position: All students should have access to arts education. According to national research, low-income students at arts-rich high schools are more likely to graduate from high school and pursue college. Studies reveal that children and youth who do not have high involvement in the Arts are three times more likely to drop out of school than children and youth who do . Furthermore, evidence shows that involvement in the Arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, cultural preservation, and verbal skill. Arts education improves student motivation, concentration, confidence. Arts education also teaches teamwork, problem solving, and solution building; all essential 21st century skills.
Many Seattle Public Schools provide arts instruction through after school programs or PTA funded programs and positions . Many of these programs are very successful. However, at statistically significant levels, south end schools and schools that do not have financially robust PTAs are less likely to have equitable arts education opportunities. This is contributing to the growing opportunity gap facing our city. Arts education is an essential component of growing whole learners, who upon graduation are fully equipped to attend college, find employment, and pursue a successful life path of their choosing.
Action Agenda: Nikkita will seek to expand the City’s current financial contributions to Creative Advantage  to increase the number of schools receiving arts educators and teaching artists. Nikkita would also broaden the number of Out of School Time (OST) arts education opportunities available in those schools experiencing the highest levels of racial and economic inequality within the school district.
OPPOSITION TO MAYORAL CONTROL OF THE SCHOOLS
Position: Nikkita opposes mayoral control of the schools, whereas Mayor Murray has a track record of supporting the mayoral takeover of education. As the Center for Public Education has noted:
“Most researchers agree on one negative consequence — when mayors take charge of public schools, the role of parents and the community, especially among minority groups, can be marginalized and can further compromise democratic control of schools.”
In cities that have mayoral control of schools, and in Michigan, where the entire state public school system is under the governor’s control, there is little to no opportunity for a democratic process to function in a healthy manner, and corporate education reform measures such as mass school closures and privatization swiftly gain traction.
When Mayor Murray was a Senator in our state congress, he was the prime sponsor of a 2007 bill that would subvert our already threatened democratic process by pushing the option of a fully appointed school board.
At a news conference in 2014, Mayor Murray confirmed this position, even in the face of evidence that mayoral-appointed school boards consistently fail to represent the will and voices of the people, that he stills sees value in mayoral control of the schools, stating, “It makes it easier to get something done.”
Action agenda: Nikkita will direct the City to collaborate with Seattle Public Schools, and would not supplant its democratic oversight of education. In addition, Nikkita will work to further elevate the voices of students, parents, and community members on their ideas for what the City’s role should be in improving educational opportunities for ALL of Seattle’s youth.
Position: The lack of educational funding for Seattle’s schools is due primarily to the Washington State Legislature’s failure to fulfill its constitutional duty to fund schools as detailed in the state supreme court’s McCleary decision. In order to compensate for the state’s failure to comply with the law, Seattle has raised local levies to provide essential supplemental funds. Seattle’s Families and Education property tax levy is up for renewal by voters in 2018, as is the Seattle Preschool Program levy. The current Families & Education levy provided for a $235 million investment in education over seven years, while the Seattle Preschool Program added $58 million over four years. There is a remarkable opportunity to build on the long legacy of voter’s desire to support education in our City, while re-envisioning the role of the City as a partner to the district, centered on the priorities outlined above.
One critical problem with the distribution model for levy funds has been the insistence by the City to tie unreasonable performance targets to schools that accept these funds. For example, the City demands that funding for critical services to the schools be contingent upon rising test scores in reading and math—and if those targets are not met, the city withholds funding from that school. A rising movement against high-stakes testing in Seattle and around the country has thrust into the spotlight the inappropriateness of denying funding to struggling schools, which inevitably hurts children who attend these schools.
Action Agenda: Nikkita will seek to immediately end the practice of withholding City levy dollars to schools based on test scores. City funds would be distributed to schools, in consultation with Seattle Public Schools, based on need. In addition, Nikkita will partner with families, the Seattle Public Schools and the educators union, and the Seattle Education Association to build a campaign to pressure the state legislature to fully fund education as outlined in the McCleary decision.
EARLY LEARNING AND CHILD CARE
Position: There is abundant research-based evidence that clearly shows how critical the earliest years are to children’s development. However, the people who care for Seattle’s youngest citizens are among the City’s lowest paid workers, and a high proportion are also womxn of color. Increasing wages for early childhood educators and caretakers will help to create a higher-quality experience for children, reduce staff turnover, promote strong relationships with children and families, and help to address wage inequity for womxn and people of color.
Action Agenda: Nikkita will direct City funding to increase salaries for early childhood educators. In addition, funding priorities for early childhood care and education would also include hiring more teachers and caretakers to reduce class size and promote early childhood approaches to anti-bias curriculum. Focusing on such curriculum at a young age would begin the process of deconstructing institutionalized racism, classism and sexism, amongst our youngest learners, while promoting mindful and reflective relationships.
Position: Transportation services for Seattle Public Schools have been steadily cut. Specifically, there are very limited transportation options provided for younger students who are in need of before- or after-school care, or for those who participate in out-of-school enrichment activities. Lack of bus services for students means more cars on the roads, more congestion around schools, and resulting safety issues for our children and neighborhoods.
Action Agenda: Nikkita will seek to develop support and funding for greater transportation options for students and families.