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Expansion of WorkFirst education opportunities will decrease intergenerational poverty

Ed. note: The following is testimony given February 7 before the Washington Legislature on HB 1342, which would expand education opportunities in the WorkFirst program from one years to two.

In support of HB 1342

As a single mother who has participated in the WorkFirst program, I can say that having had a two-year associate of sciences degree has been beneficial in reducing poverty, improving resilience in finding employment, and beneficial for my children. Many studies cited during session speak volumes to the relationship between parents with college experience improving the educational success rate of their children. Education is mutually beneficial for society and for impoverished families.

My story

After graduating from high school, I completed a year of college before dropping out after the death of my mother. I continue to work as a waitress for 10 years at an Olympia diner.

After traumatic events in my family’s life, including abusive men and dependence on illicit substances, I lost long-term employment and my home. While putting the pieces back together from my life, I knew if the changes were to stick, then I would need to go back to college in an effort to improve opportunities and positive influences in my family’s life.

I chose Associate of Applied Sciences: Paralegal Studies as my vocational program. Typically, the program takes nine quarters to complete. While at South Puget Sound Community College, I also participated in two internships; one at an Olympia Family Law Office and the other at Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights as an advocate where I am currently employed. I also made contacts volunteering for Thurston County Legal Services where I have volunteered for nearly two years now. I also obtained office and scribing experience working on campus for a year in Disability Support Services at the college. Upon graduating, I also received temporary employment for six months making $14 dollars per hour as an interpreter.

If I had not already had a year of college before starting as a WorkFirst participant, I would have had to drop out after a year with only a legal secretary certificate, for which the entry level wage is only $10 per hour. Also, most law firms, offices and the State of Washington do not use legal secretaries at all anymore. With an economy trying to rebound and adapt with less money, legal assistants and paralegals are the norm. The entry level wage working at a boutique law firm is $12-16 per hour. As a paralegal working in Complex Civil Litigation, at the Department of Labor and Industries or working at the Attorney General’s office, the entry level is wage is much higher. Paralegals or legal assistants in Olympia, according to (www.salary.com) make an annual salary of $49,123 dollars annually. The numbers speak for themselves. Also, I would like to mention that I have paid for my education so far with grants, scholarships, and loans and not with WorkFirst. They have paid a monthly grant for my son and childcare so I can go to school and work.

While I was a scribe at SPSCC in a Writing 102 class, students were reading a Humanities Essay (David Spade) about the richness of education on the soul as well as the obvious financial advantages of advanced degrees and the opportunities that exist for those who have them. For some reason, it hit me hard…truthfully, not the financial aspect as much as the richness of education knowledge and culture. I decided that I needed to continue my education with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Social Justice, Law, and Policy at the Evergreen State College (Fall ‘12.) The window from which I view my life is a little clearer, larger, and brighter now. Rather than just watching others travel, live and experience it, I can walk the path myself along with my children, setting an example for them. Children whose parents go to college are much more likely to go on to college as well.

As far as social progress, education is not something we can go without. I imagined working in an office, making change and being a part of the system that makes things happen. I met people for whom I served coffee and breakfast, people who had the careers, and traveled to and lived in places where I could only imagine…at the time, I believed it was only for “them” and not me. I was inside a mirror looking out to the world I could see, but could not touch. The state, partially due to the McCleary decision, is working to figure out how to put money back in to children’s education. Can the state also work to provide education for the parents who raise the children?

Patricia Ridge is active in P.O.W.E.R. and  lives in Lacey, WA.

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