COMMENTARY: Families and education levy hold key to livable wage jobs for our children

Janice Deguchi

By Janice Deguchi and Kristina Johnson
For Northwest Asian Weekly

By 2018, 67 percent of jobs in Washington will require post-secondary education. Today, only 25 percent of King County residents who have a bachelor’s degree or higher were born in Washington state.

The City of Seattle elections are quickly approaching, and on the ballot this year is the renewal of the Families and Education Levy, an essential source of grant money for the Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC).

DLEC provides quality, multicultural early childhood education services to children and families in the International District and in Beacon Hill, Lake Washington, Rainier Beach, and Sea-Tac. These grant funds support our teachers to advance their education, increasing their knowledge of early childhood development and curriculum. The funds also provide 20 preschool children with the opportunity to attend DLEC, through the Step Ahead program, which supports bilingual and multicultural classrooms.

Machiko Momii with her son Joji


The Families and Education Levy aims to prepare Seattle children for kindergarten, improve academic performance, and ensure that all children graduate from high school and are prepared for a career or college, so they will be ready for the jobs of the future.

Noven Chiu reads to one of her students

One of the priority goals of the levy is to increase kindergarten readiness for low-income children and children that are English-language learners. These efforts are aimed at reducing the achievement gap before it begins.

DLEC children overall showed great improvement toward this goal in both 2009 and 2010, with roughly 70 percent becoming ready for kindergarten by the end of each school year.

The levy funds made it possible for Machiko Momii’s 4-year old son, Joji, to attend preschool at the DLEC. Machiko did not meet the income guidelines for Head Start, but also did not make enough on her single income to afford to send Joji to preschool. The levy grant supports Step Ahead preschools, where preparing for kindergarten is central. The levy allowed Joji to attend DLEC, where he had the opportunity to socialize with children and learn Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish, while his friends learned English.

Noven Chiu, a lead teacher at DLEC in the International District, is a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong. She is passionate about fostering bilingual success in her students.

Noven started off at Denise Louie eight years ago as a teacher’s assistant. She put herself through school during this time, completing her Child Development Associate Certificate and then her associate’s degree. At that point, still not satisfied that she had learned enough, Noven pursued and received a scholarship funded by the levy to pursue and complete her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with a focus on dual language.

Noven says that her continuing education has fueled her passion to learn, and allowed her to continually bring this knowledge to her kids in the classroom.

Noven teaches primarily children who are English language learners, children who come from Asian and Latino immigrant families. Like all teachers in Denise Louie’s multilingual classrooms, Noven aims to support the development of each child’s home language, in addition to English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Spanish. The program also validates the use of the home language by partnering with families to involve them in creating a rich and powerful learning environment.

Effective teaching, research-based curriculum, and funding from the Levy has enabled DLEC children to prepare for kindergarten.

Please help ensure that children like Joji have the opportunity to succeed in college and/or a career. Please vote yes for the Families and Education Levy. (end)

About the Families and Education Levy: The Families & Education Levy, set to expire this year, will direct $232 million to Seattle’s most vulnerable kids over the next seven years. For more information on the levy, visit For more information on Denise Louie, visit

Janice Deguchi is the executive director of DLEC. Kristina Johnson is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.

Deguchi can be reached at

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