On a windy morning on March 2, the International Examiner had a chance to sit down with Gov. Jay Inslee at IDEA Space in the International District to talk about education, data disaggregation, climate change, and the minimum wage.
International Examiner: What do you think has been the cost of this ongoing struggle to address the McCleary decision in terms of Washington’s children and the Asian Pacific Islander community in particular?
Gov. Jay Inslee: Well, as far as the [Asian Pacific Islander community], we want to focus on eliminating the opportunity gap which has been persistent. We have a gap in performance based on our minority communities. It’s not exclusive to the Asian Pacific Islander Community, we have other diverse groups that have suffered due to this opportunity gap as well and we want to focus on that. We know when we do focus on that we know we can make some real great strides. We know when we do give children who might have English language challenges additional help in early childhood education, in all-day kindergarten, in smaller class sizes they do better. And, fortunately we are making strides in all three of those areas. We have had a significant expansion in early childhood education, we are having full-day kindergarten for all children, and we are having smaller class sizes.
I think that’s particularly important for minority communities that have been suffering because of this opportunity gap… Then we can make sure that children have access financing for post secondary education, for college, community college, technical schools, and that’s really important to minority communities because they frequently have less economic well-being…
We made some really great strides. We put in $5 billion of extra money in the last three years, but we have several billion to go under the McCleary decision and the reason that has not happened yet is because the legislature has taken the first two steps before it takes the third step. The third step should be depending on how you count this year we just sign the bill to set up the frame work to finish the job in 2017 to take the next step to really put the financial framework underneath the schools to support them.
IE: Data disaggregation is the most important issue for API community leaders. For a lot of people who are not involved in policy making or fundraising, it can be hard to grasp exactly how aggregated data has been harmful to the API community. Do you have any specific examples that you’ve seen of how aggregated data may have hurt certain API communities?
Inslee: There is a problem to the extent that data has been aggregated across all APIs. It has failed to capture the fact that amongst [different] groups, particularly [Pacific Islanders], we’ve had an opportunity gap that’s been profound. So even though the data has not been precise as it should be, really it should be disaggregated, because it gives a better snapshot of what’s really going on. I guess what I’m saying at lease for me is it hasn’t blinded me to the fact that we have a persistent opportunity gap, particularly for our API community and children…
That’s important particularly because there’s this stereotype for Asian youth, we have a lot of Asian youth that are having spectacular academic achievement. We recognize that, we honor it, but it’s not universal across the entire community. And it’s something that at least I realize, which is why we are committed to helping these young students. I think the earlier we help these students the better. The better English as a second language help we get for the them, the better tutoring we get for them in all kinds of subjects, the better financing we get for college.
IE: How do you address climate change while still building an equitable society?
Inslee: Well, that’s how you build an equitable society, you address climate change. Because climate change unchecked is one of the most discriminatory, impoverishing, disadvantaging conditions known to humans. Because the people who are going to suffer first and most severely from climate change are minorities, are disadvantaged communities, are those on the lower income scale and I think the most profound evidence of that is when I was down on the banks of the Duwamish talking to students and I met this young woman names Jasmine. She had done a study on asthma rates and she found that asthma rates where profoundly more dense in her neighborhood than a few miles away because they live next the freeway and industrial plants and these were mostly Latino youth and the like and other minority communities. And they are just getting hammered with asthma, associated with burning fossil fuels, burning gasoline, and burning diesel. And this always stuck with me. She said, “I was 12 when I first realized there are some kids who don’t have asthma.”
Well the biggest victims of carbon pollution are minority communities, lower income folks, because they live next to the freeway and the industrial plants. So if you want to reduce that inequity, the first thing we should do is reduce climate change, reduce carbon pollution, reduce associated pollutants that are associated with carbon pollution. And, that’s just fundamentally a necessity. They also mention that for those involved in the Pacific Islander community, there are going to be a lot fewer Pacific islands where you can’t keep your nose above water if we don’t do something about this. I’ve talked to leaders of the Marshall islands, the Marianas, and others, and we are already going to have climate change refugees. And probably the first climate change refugees are going to be Pacific Islanders and there will be 10,000s if not millions more over time. The way I look at this is [the way] to achieve equity is to fight climate change.
IE: There are many in the API community who are afraid of raising the minimum wage. What’s your message to the API community about raising the minimum wage on the state level?
Inslee: I’m in favor of raising our minimum wage. It’s really archaic, it’s way out of date, and it hasn’t kept on track with economic conditions at all. So the first thing to say about it is it’s old, and out of date, and needs to be updated, so we are updating it to take into consideration the economic condition that now exist. I’m confident that this will help grow our economy.
I like small businesses, I think small businesses are the wellspring of economic growth in our state. There are a few things I know. Number one, they do better when there are consumers to buy their products. When there’s people who have dollars to go into a restaurant or a shoe store. The better off those consumers are, the better off small businesses will be. Because if you don’t have a consumer, it doesn’t matter how good of a business person you are, if there’s no one with dollars to be a consumer. And the evidence has pointed to this. I’ve had economists who have studied this in detail who have told me if we can get better consumers, particularly in the lower income people, who have not had the [ability] to be good consumers, it will increase economic activity, that’s number one. Number two, what we have seen is reasonable increases in minimum wage have been entirely consistent with economic growth. We have not seen loss of small business activity or employment associated with reasonable increases in minimum wage, you can look after study after study after study. And, look, if a high minimum wage killed restaurants, Seattle has more restaurants than, per capita and the most vigorous restaurant scene, probably in America, that sorta dispels the myth, that some increases in minimum wage are going to kill the restaurant business. It just hasn’t happened…
Anybody with overhead and costs immediately, small businesses will think, “my overhead is going up that’s a problem.” The reason this has not been a problem by and large for small businesses is all their competitors costs have gone up as well. So they are not at a competitive disadvantage. That’s the bottom line. And that’s the reason small businesses have continued to grow even with an increased minimum wage. They are all in the same boat.