By Lillian Ortiz-Self
As a lifelong school employee, I see first-hand what is working well in our public schools and what needs improvement.
I ran for office because I wanted to use my professional experience and passion to make positive change to ensure every child has opportunities to learn.
I love public service and being a voice in Olympia for our community, but sometimes politics get messy. Sometimes people don’t get 100 percent of what they want, so they cry foul and lob baseless accusations at others through the media.
This was the case last week when The Herald published an op-ed by Ricardo Sanchez accusing me of playing political games at the expense of doing right by kids.
Mr. Sanchez is upset because he’s a strong advocate for a bilingual educator program that the Legislature only partially funded this year.
He first claimed in a commentary published in The Wenatchee World that House Democrats cut funding completely for the bilingual educator program. That claim, of course, is completely false and the op-ed was retracted.
In a nearly identical commentary published by this publication last week, he claimed that House Democrats blocked progress on expanding bilingual education in an effort to score political points at the expense of kids.
This, too, is not true.
Here’s the truth:
Our state has a growing diverse population. I embrace this diversity, as do my colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus. And we recognize a growing diverse population places additional demands on our education system.
More than 100,000 kids in Washington are enrolled in transitional bilingual programs. One-size-fits-all does not work in the classrooms. Our public schools need to meet kids where they are with their learning, not the other way around.
With this idea in mind, lawmakers have embraced many innovative reforms to our education system over the years designed to close the opportunity gap.
However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. These reforms cost money.
With limited resources at their disposal, lawmakers are forced to make difficult decisions to fund certain programs and say no to others.
In this case, there were two worthwhile bilingual education programs competing for state resources. Mr. Sanchez wanted funds to expand “Grow Your Own” educator programs, which focus on bilingual educator recruitment and retention.
Others, including myself, advocated for expanding dual-language learning, which are programs for our youngest learners to receive content-based instruction in two languages. Dual-language programs are a proven teaching method of getting non-English speaking students caught up with their peers.
In the end, instead of fully funding one program and rejecting the other, lawmakers compromised and funded both programs at reduced amounts.
This is how governing works. We compromise. Neither side gets everything they wanted, but both sides get something they wanted.
Is it enough money? No, it isn’t. But the investments are a start to get these initiatives off the ground, and my hope is that lawmakers will boost funding for bilingual education next session.
I look forward to the day when House Democrats can work with a more progressive Senate that will allow the Legislature to invest additional resources in dual-language and bilingual educator programs.
These types of innovative education reforms are just some of the many recommendations submitted to the Legislature by the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee.
These recommendations, including bilingual educator programs, have been enthusiastically embraced by House Democrats.
On a final note, anyone who knows me knows I don’t play political games. House Democrats don’t play political games. We don’t seek “political retribution” as claimed by Mr. Sanchez and we are not concerned with who gets credit ahead of enacting good policy.
Look no further than the Dream Act as proof of this. When faced with a political fork in the road three years ago, House Democrats choose the pathway that ensured the Dream Act would become law even though that pathway opened up opportunities for others to take credit.
House Democrats did right by Dreamers by putting policy before politics. We embrace policies that are student-centered and focused on improving academic achievement for every child.
And as long as I have the honor and privilege of serving as a state representative in Olympia, I will continue to advocate for learning opportunities for every child.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, is the House Majority Caucus vice chairwoman. She has served as a representative from the 21st Legislative District since 2013.