David Frockt represents the 46th District in the Washington state senate, which primarily comprises North Seattle. First elected to the state house of representatives in 2010, he was elected early on as Assistant Floor Leader, a rare responsibility given to a rookie member of the State House. Following the untimely passing of Sen. Scott White last year, the Metropolitan King County Council voted unanimously to appoint David to represent the 46th District in the state senate. David and his wife live in North Seattle and are the proud parents of eight-year-old twins.
Where do you see the legislature heading in the upcoming session with respect to challenges in the health and human services areas?
To start, I would say that we’ve got two huge education funding challenges. The first is to figure out the direction for higher education funding given the negative slide in support. Second, we are mandated by the courts to implement policies in recent years to refine and reform education. The initial price tag for these is 1 billion dollars. We need to support both ends of education from early learning through higher education. Those early years are so critical to get kids ready to learn for kindergarten – especially for low income populations with kids who don’t have good access to quality preschool programs. The science of brain development shows that these early years are so critical. There should be an emphasis on investing in quality early learning systems.
A lot of the education funding that we are trying to do and that’s called for in the McCleary decision for the state to adequately fund K-12 education is designed to emphasize the kindergarten through third grade years and have students reading and ready to go by third grade. That’s really when reading skills need to kick in. We want all of our children reading at grade level by then. For example, this would mean smaller class size, quality instruction, assistant teachers, reading specialists, etc. Due to budget cuts, Seattle schools ended up increasing class size and laying off reading specialists. We need to get this funding level figured out. We also want to make sure we can expand all day kindergarten throughout the State over the next 8-10 years. It’s expensive but worthwhile to do and will help get the kids ready and reading by third grade.
We also have a million people without health insurance and we need to consider the health and safety net that has been strained and frayed in recent years. Do you pull funding out of health and human services and put it into education? Some proposals the way they are structured would have that effect. That is going to be a big challenge for us and the composition of the legislature will have an impact on this. We also have to figure out how we help the economy and stimulate job creation and how we prioritize services.
In deciding health and human services budget you have to consider the effects that cuts would have both short and long-term. Cuts in mental health funding would mean that we end up pushing some people into hospitals, which is more costly than funding some mental health services. We need to prioritize services and think about what the right policy is and make decisions based on that.
I was so impressed when I toured Ryther and saw the quality of the care and instruction and mental health services. I can’t fathom, as a father, the distressed backgrounds that these kids are coming from. It’s hard enough to parent when there is a stable home life with a stable income. I was touched by what I saw. You are talking about kids who are really vulnerable and need a full range of care that Ryther provides.
What are your hopes for this session?
For me, with two years into this career, I think we have to get the education funding situation straightened out. What I hope is to convince the public that this austerity that has been going on since the recession started is not necessarily the best way to operate a state that has to do things and has to provide services that the private sector is not going to provide. Who is going to help Ryther cover the cost of the kids they intervene with? Who’s going to pay for that? We ought to have a commitment as a state, a community, to not just leave institutions like that out on their own. We ought to find a way to provide a baseline level of support that allows the vital work you do to remain strong to improve the lives of these children. That pays dividends down the road. My goal is that we can make the case that it’s important to fund mental health treatment and to find ways to fund mental health services for children. We always have to be prudent and we have to get our systems to run more efficiently. There are a lot of ways to improve but starving these investments is something that’s counterproductive.