The Potential Impact of Washington’s Referendum 88 on Youth in Foster Care

By Dawn Rains, Chief Policy and Strategy Officer

On November 5, Washingtonians have the opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box. If you are registered to vote, you should have received your ballot by now. If you have not yet received it, you can check your voter registration status here. If you are not registered to vote, you can now register online until eight days before the election or at your county elections office any time before 8 p.m. on the day of the election. Youth who are 16 or 17 years old can now pre-register to vote, and they will be sent a ballot for the next election in which they are eligible.

At Treehouse, we’re providing information on Referendum 88 — an important statewide ballot measure that has the potential to impact youth in foster care. In 1998, Washington voters passed I-200 which prohibited public institutions from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the areas of public education, public employment and public contracting. It also prohibited targeted outreach to historically marginalized communities.

Over two decades, the impact of I-200 on women and communities of color has been significant. Since passage, diversity in Washington’s public university and college populations has declined in proportion to the population as a whole, and the total number of Black, Native American, and Pacific Islander students enrolled in all four-year public universities in the state also has declined. The percentage of state contracts awarded to women and minority-owned businesses has decreased from 15% to 3%, which represents $3.8 billion in lost revenue for these communities over 20 years. Washington is one of only eight states in the nation that prohibits taking proactive steps to reduce racial disparities in public education, employment and contracting.

In April 2019, the Washington State Legislature passed I-1000. It was designed to explicitly allow public universities and state agencies to implement targeted outreach to historically underrepresented communities. It also allows public institutions to set diversity goals in the areas of public education, employment and contracting — as long as such policies do not constitute preferential treatment and do not use quotas.

In response to the legislature’s passage of I-1000, a group of voters collected signatures to place Referendum 88 on the November ballot for a vote of the people.

Referendum 88: The Vote on Initiative 1000

Voters are being asked to approve or reject the legislature’s passage of I-1000. The wording on Referendum 88 in the Voter Guide is somewhat confusing. Here are the two options:

  • An approve vote supports allowing Initiative 1000 to go into effect, thereby expressly allowing the state to implement affirmative action policies (without the use of preferential treatment or quotas) in public employment, education and contracting.
  • A reject vote supports blocking I-1000 from going into effect, thereby restricting the state from implementing affirmative action policies in public employment, education and contracting.

How could the passage of Referendum 88 impact youth in foster care?

Youth in foster care experience educational challenges due to their histories of trauma, loss and changes in homes and schools. Youth in foster care are disproportionately youth of color; they comprise 37.1% of the total youth in foster care as compared to 23.3% of the overall population. Youth that participate in Graduation Success and Launch Success are disproportionately youth of color (66%), have qualifying disabilities that require special education supports (40%), and/or disproportionately identify as LGBTQ. Our youth are often the first in their families to graduate from high school or attend a post secondary institution.

As a result of these compounding disadvantages, our students often require targeted outreach, significant encouragement, and ongoing support to apply to college and implement their post-high school plan. In order for our youth to earn a degree or credential, obtain a living wage job and secure stable housing, ensuring that they have equitable opportunities to access public higher education is critical. For our youth, that often requires special efforts on behalf of public universities and colleges and employers to even recruit them into applicant pools.

The passage of Referendum 88 would allow:

  • Race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, age, disability or veteran status to be taken into account as one of many factors for consideration in admission to public universities, securing public employment or winning public contracts.
  • Public agencies and higher education institutions to take specific action to diversify their workforce, student base and paid contractors.
  • Targeted recruitment efforts to attract historically marginalized populations into applicant pools.

Many youth in foster care would potentially benefit from targeted outreach strategies from universities and state agencies in post secondary enrollment, public employment and public contracts.

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About the Author

As Chief Policy & Strategy Officer, Dawn leads policy, advocacy and long-term strategy for Treehouse. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit management, fund development and legislative advocacy. Dawn holds a Master of Public Administration and a Certificate in Fundraising Management from the University of Washington. She also is a former foster parent.

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