In 2006, the Spokane Public Schools’ graduation rate was less than 60 percent. By 2013, it had jumped to nearly 80 percent.
The story behind that incredible turnaround is truly remarkable and one with potentially profound health impacts.
“In Spokane County, we’re using educational attainment as a lens for improving health,” said Alisa May, executive director of Priority Spokane. “We’re beginning to see real signs of success in our work.”
Despite being home to a number of quality colleges and universities and a good employment base in the biomedical and technical fields, 18 percent of children in Spokane County live below the federal poverty level. The community recognized it was vital for Spokane to give its residents the opportunity to take advantage of these potential job opportunities in their own backyard.
In 2009, Priority Spokane—an organization led by representatives from government, academia, business and other nonprofits focusing on the vitality of the county—sought the input of residents on the community’s most pressing issues. By an overwhelming majority, citizens voted for education attainment as the community’s top priority. Since then, education has been the community’s focus because it matters to the residents and because leaders see it as the key to breaking the intergenerational cycles of poverty and poor health.
“One of the seminal moments that inspired our journey was a report from our local health department clearly linking lack of education to poor health, lower income and poverty,” said County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn. “It motivated our organization, along with many others, to work on improving the health of our community by focusing on education.”