If you don’t live a life in poverty or abuse in Seattle, you’ve probably never heard of the Family Support Workers program. But it's a lifeline for lots of students in the Seattle Public Schools. Little wonder then that a proposal (.pdf) from the school district to cut its funding has pissed off lots of people who pay attention to the impoverished and abused.
There are currently 45 family support workers in the Seattle school district who would all lose their jobs if the program gets eliminated. They help struggling students—whether they are immigrants, minorities, poor, or mentally and physically disabled—get basic social services such as health care, food, and mental health counseling so that they can go to class and focus on their studies. More than 1,283 people sent postcards to the Seattle school board last week urging them to save the program, established 23 years ago.
Funding comes from the Seattle Office of Education’s Family and Education levy which will come before Seattle voters for renewal next February. But the Seattle school board’s priorities for the levy—the one they intend to forward to voters—do not include family support workers. Instead they want to replace the group with counselors. Why? “In order to enhance student health and wellness,” says the plan presented to the levy oversight and planning committee by school board president Michael DeBell last month.
But Jonathan Knapp, vice president of the Seattle teacher’s union, the Seattle Education Association, says, “The level of social and emotional trauma present in classrooms around family health, food insecurity, and job insecurity is incredibly high." He adds, “This is not a time we should be cutting back on the limited wrap-around services we have. It's not like counselors would come in and do what family support workers did. Contact with families would go away."
Knapp pointed out that SPS had recently received $9.2 million in EduJobs funding from the federal government for positions that have been eliminated. “This is where they should be looking to fund counselors in the short term until state revenues start to recover,” he said.