Fully fund basic education

Great public schools are key to preparing our kids to compete in a global 21st Century economy and restoring middle-class prosperity. Our paramount duty is ensuring all students have an equal opportunity to learn.House Democrats are leading the way toward building a high-quality education system. That starts with ensuring teachers, students, parents and communities have the tools and resources they need to help each child achieve success in the classroom.

As part of education funding reform championed by House Democrats in 2009 and 2010, the Legislature invested an additional $1.3 billion toward basic education in the 2015 budget. We’ve invested $2.5 billion new dollars to K-12 in the last three years.

These new investments will provide kids with adequate transportation to and from school, expand all-day kindergarten, reduce K-3 class sizes and ensure every student has the materials and supplies they need.

Our state is a leader in education in many ways, like getting our youngest learners ready for kindergarten and reforming our teacher and principal evaluation programs. Washington was one of the first states to offer dual-credit courses for high school students. Other states model their policies based on some of the successes we’ve seen in Washington.

But the Legislature still has work to do, such as increasing the high school graduation rate, closing the opportunity gap, and reducing the number of homeless students living on the streets. These are challenges House Democrats are dedicated to solving in the coming years.

A growing economy, healthy and thriving communities, and a strong middle class — the pathway to these outcomes starts with a high-quality K-12 education system.

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Higher education available for all

Building an economy that works for everyone means making college affordable and accessible for every qualified student.Washington is fortunate to have an excellent higher-education system, with nationally-ranked state and regional universities, along with an array of technical and community colleges throughout the state.

Unfortunately, the astronomical expense of attending these institutions bolsters the sad and un-American idea that access to academic opportunity and the benefits it can bring are reserved for a privileged few.

House Democrats reject this notion. The path to higher education should be open to every person who wants to chase an academic dream, regardless of their economic situation.

We’ve worked consistently to break down the significant but unnecessary barriers faced by many deserving students. In a state known for its high-tech and engineering industries, House Democrats are committed to improving access to higher education — a commitment that will pay dividends not only for students and their families, but for our state’s economy as well.

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Tax fairness for the middle class

In Washington you should get what you pay for. You should get ahead with hard work and you should get return on your investments. But for years, the middle class has paid the lion’s share of state taxes.That’s because Washington has the most unfair tax system in the nation, where our poorest families pay up to seven times more of their income in state and local taxes than the wealthiest five percent. Small business owners pay high taxes to operate their businesses, but some of our largest corporations get record-high tax breaks. Meanwhile, this unfair tax system fails to fund key services like public schools.

But the answer isn’t high taxes — it’s fair taxes.

Our upside-down, unfair tax structure is the biggest roadblock to prosperity for average Washingtonians. The House Democrats believe that middle-class and low-income families deserve a break, and we need to ask the wealthiest few to pay their fair share for our schools, bridges and roads.

We also need to support small businesses by reviewing some of the more than 650 tax breaks on the books that benefit corporations with record profits they were never intended to benefit, while family businesses bear the burden.

We need an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

Fixing a broken mental health care system

Washington’s mental health care system is broken and unconstitutional. It has failed families across the state. To fix it, we need to value treatment and understanding instead of ignoring the problem and simply locking people away.Family members should be part of the solution to helping those suffering from a mental health crisis, and they should be protected when someone is a threat to others. When a patient isn’t getting the care they need, family members and loved ones should be able to petition the court for action.

For those who need help but don’t require commitment, a reasonable balance gives patients better treatment options and saves taxpayers money.

At the same time, the state must meet it’s obligation to provide care. Too many patients have been left chained to beds for hours, waiting for a mental health provider to see them. Investing in crisis prevention, training for mental health providers, and more inpatient beds and community-based outpatient treatment is far more humane and effective.

A mental health crisis can effect anyone, at any time. We must be proactive, compassionate and understanding to our friends and neighbors who deserve proper mental health care.

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One voice, one vote

Our democracy should serve all citizens, not simply the wealthy few. And every citizen — regardless of skin color, sex, race or religion — should have access to basic services under our democracy.America is supposed to be about one person, one vote. That idea has been under assault by court rulings allowing unlimited campaign spending and proposed laws making it harder for seniors, college students and minorities to vote.

State and local governments serve every citizen, not just the wealthy few. We’ve pushed for reforms like the Washington Voting Rights Act that protect our democracy, save taxpayers money and give everyone a voice.

Democracy can be messy. It’s not perfect. But that doesn’t mean we stop fighting for everyday people. Because in the end, your voice, and your vote, should matter just as much as any billionaire, corporation or lobbyist.

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High-Quality early learning for every child

All children deserve a great start in life. High-quality early learning is the best investment we can make in closing the opportunity gap and giving all our children the opportunity to succeed.Washington state is a leader in innovative approaches to early learning and early childhood support. But, even with our commitment to early learning, more than half of our children start the first day of kindergarten behind. They are set up to fail – behind in math, language, and the social and emotional skills needed to succeed. Students who start out behind rarely catch up to their peers.

Access to high-quality early learning is the best way to make sure that kids can walk through the door on their first day of kindergarten confident and ready to learn.

Early learning isn’t just good for children and families — these investments pay off for the state, too. We get $4 to $7 back for every dollar we spend on quality early learning by reducing the need for special education, remedial teaching, a lower drop-out rate and less involvement in the juvenile justice system, among other reasons.

House Democrats know that all children deserve access to high-quality early learning, not just the wealthy few.

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A healthy environment for today and tomorrow

A better world for our children must include pristine air and water, clean energy sources, food security and preservation of natural spaces.When we think about what makes Washington the wonderful state we all call home, we envision the many opportunities for recreation and industry afforded by our great outdoors.

Our pristine lands and abundant natural resources give visitors a reason to come to Washington and families and world-class businesses reasons to put down roots.

It is our shared responsibility to protect what we have, to leave our children and grandchildren a safe and healthy Washington state.

Washington has long been a leader on environmental issues. But we continue to face challenges.

We need to keep working on preserving and protecting our natural resources, and we must watch for emerging threats to our indoor and outdoor environments. As a leader in creating a sustainable future, our state can show other jurisdictions how to create their own evergreen legacy.

The choices we make today will shape whether Washington state continues to be a leader in protecting our planet or whether we will put short-term profits and political ideology ahead of public health, a sustainable economy and our children’s future.

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Equal benefits for equal work

According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly six in 10 poor adults are women, and more than half of all poor children live in families headed by women. Poverty rates are especially high for single mothers, women of color and elderly women living alone.Middle-class and professional women also face barriers in the workplace, typically being paid less than men doing the same job. Year after year, House Democrats have stood up for the women of Washington, demanding equal pay for equal work. We’ve also championed paid safe and sick leave for all Washington workers, so that a working mother won’t be faced with a choice between losing her job or caring for her sick child.

On top of the economic challenges Washington women face, women from all walks of life are frequently the targets of violence. The scourges of domestic abuse and rape threaten women’s health and their social and economic well-being, and also thwart efforts to reduce poverty. Washington is one of the top 10 human trafficking destinations in the country due to our large ports, having a long international border and being heavily dependent on seasonal workers. But our state is also a leader in the nation when it comes to fighting the trafficking of women and children, and the sex trade industry.

There’s more work to be done to uphold women’s achievements, recognize challenges, and focus greater attention on women’s rights.

House Democrats continue working with advocates to fight for gender equality in the workplace, paid sick and safe leave, and for programs and services to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and other types of violence against women.

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Healthy families and healthy communities

Ensuring equal access to health care means continuing to improve our ability to deliver service. With more and more people having access to health insurance, we must meet the challenges head on.Equal access means making sure Washington residents in rural and underserved communities can see a doctor within a reasonable timeframe, or a specialist is accessible either through a nearby hospital or telemedicine options. That means increasing physicians throughout the state, supporting doctors and medical staff through new technologies, providing ample funding for our health care system, and getting consumers access to information to guide their health care decisions.

Expanding educational opportunities for future physicians and medical staff is critical to ensuring our rural and underserved communities have the care they need. Opening up new medical schools and expanding the number of residencies available is another step in the right direction.

We also need to make sure care is available from the moment a child is born. Early screenings for developmental disabilities and critical medical conditions need to be available to all children, regardless of economic status. Helping children manage their health care as they transition to adulthood, including foster children and the homeless who often slip through the cracks, is necessary for our communities. Children should never be left to fend for themselves.

For many in our aging population, their primary caregiver at home is a family member or neighbor who is there less than 20 hours a week. Those who are able to make that sacrifice usually work another job and taking the time off to take mandated training in specific timeframes can be impossible. These caregivers should be commended and provided every opportunity to make their work a little easier.

Taking care of our friends and neighbors, addressing the challenges in our health care system and providing opportunities and access to care for all is how we ensure everyone has the health care they need to live happy, healthy lives.

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Secure families and safe communities

It’s our duty to protect citizens from crime and injustice. That’s especially true when it comes to the most vulnerable members of our families: children, people with disabilities, seniors, foster children, the hungry, the homeless and our veterans.We believe in neighbors helping neighbors, and know that misfortune can strike any family at any time. That’s why we must ensure funding for those who need our help and reform laws to better protect the safety and privacy of families in every corner of Washington state.Some of the worst harm done in our state is by impaired drivers. Washington leads the way in reducing deaths and injuries due to drunk driving, but we must make sure we build on that good work by closing loopholes that allow the worst repeat offenders to continue wreaking havoc.

Our communities and our roadways will be safer as we remain vigilant. Cracking down on those who use the Internet to distribute private, intimate images of other people, and on those who possess sexually-explicit images of children is a constant goal of House Democrats. We’ve done great work in strengthening the laws on the books, and giving law enforcement the tools and funding they need to pursue child pornography traffickers.

We must continue funding law enforcement programs that arrest and prosecute those who are committing these crimes and abuses. We must also make sure our young people aren’t slipping through the cracks.

Reducing recidivism for youthful offenders, preventing youth homelessness and helping youth in foster care so they can transition from child to adulthood are important because without stability and guidance, the young people of today can get lost in the system and end up the criminals of tomorrow.

Our state must respond to crisis, including situations involving persons experiencing emotional, mental, physical, behavioral or chemical dependency-related crises. Providing training to our law enforcement officers gives them the tools they need to respond to these situations.

And when we are faced with natural disasters, our communities should have access to statewide plans to mobilize our emergency responders so that when big disasters happen, like the Oso landslide, local emergency responders have the help they need to keep our communities safe.

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Restoring the middle class

A strong workforce is the foundation for a solid economy. This is particularly true in Washington, where the economy relies on consumer spending, and the resulting tax revenue, to fund critical services like basic education for Washington’s schoolchildren.We will continue making smart investments in construction and transportation to create jobs that keep the economy moving. But we can’t be blind to the fact that many Washington families are falling behind. People are working harder than ever but struggling to make ends meets as wages continue to fall behind inflation and the cost of living continues to rise.

Washington families shouldn’t have to choose between paying for their kids’ college or retiring on time.

House Democrats believe that the state economy must work for everyone, not just the wealthy few. So we are focusing on policies that will strengthen our economy through justice, fairness and equality.

No one who works full-time should live in poverty. An honest day’s work should be compensated with a fair wage, and workers should get decent benefits for the work they put in. There is an estimated 1 million Washington workers — including many in food service, retail and even health care — who too often have to choose between their jobs and going to the doctor or caring for a sick or injured family member.

House Democrats will continue fighting for the families who make Washington their home, work hard every day and play by the rules.

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A safe, modern transportation system

Everyone should have the freedom to travel quickly and reliably, regardless of where they come from or where they are going. A modern transportation system with options for all commuters promotes not just mobility, but equality and opportunity.As the most-trade dependent state in the nation, our economy depends on businesses being able to efficiently transport goods and products to markets both local and international.

From large corporations like Boeing and Microsoft to farmers in Eastern Washington, businesses across the state rely on our bridges, highways and ports to get their goods to market.

Commuters need to be able to get to their jobs without wasting time and money stuck in traffic.

A robust transportation system is another way we build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. Moving people and goods is about more than just roads though.

Public transit, commuter rail, ferries, and bicycle and pedestrian pathways all provide travelers with options for getting around. By providing transportation choices, we ensure that everyone – regardless of age, ability, geography, or economic status – can get work, school and other important activities.

We believe that all Washingtonian should have access to a safe, modern transportation system that supports local businesses and connects communities.

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Washington State House Democrats

The information on these pages was created by House staff for legislative purposes and is a historical record of legislative events and activities. None of this material is intended to either directly or indirectly assist any campaign for office or ballot proposition. RCW 42.52.180 prohibits the use of public resources for campaign purposes.