Washington State

our goal
To create opportunities for all children in Washington State—regardless of their race, ethnicity, income, or gender—to reach their full potential.
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A family newly housed at Croft Place Townhomes, a low-income housing complex in West Seattle.

At a glance

  • Our Washington State strategy supports students where they live, learn, and play—at home, at school, and in their neighborhoods.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, we supported community response funds, provided technical assistance to state and county departments of health, and shared tools and practices with school districts to support teaching and learning across remote, hybrid, and in-person settings.
  • Since 2000, we have worked to prevent homelessness among families with children by improving crisis response in three counties, investing in more affordable housing, and supporting social service providers.
  • We have been working to expand access to high-quality pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Washington State since 2005.
  • In 2010, when we started investing in seven low-income school districts in South King County, only 51 percent of eligible 8th graders were signed up for the Road Map Project’s College Bound Scholarship; by 2014, that number had reached 96 percent.
OUR STRATEGY

Our strategy

We believe that all children deserve a chance to reach their full potential, regardless of their race, ethnicity, income, or gender. Educational attainment—a college degree or a vocational or technical credential—is still the best indicator that young people are on the path to fulfilling their potential. That’s why we invest in partners that are working to improve outcomes for students in Washington. We support children in every aspect of their lives:

  • Home.  Every child deserves a safe and stable place to call home. Affordable housing, flexible social services, and programs that address student and family homelessness can help provide the security that supports achievement.

  • Community. The people and resources that make our neighborhoods vibrant—including after-school and summer programs, mentors, and community organizations such as churches, cultural networks, and nonprofits—can all work together to nurture each child’s unique abilities.

  • School.  Every classroom can embrace the whole child. Teachers and staff who have the tools to promote social, emotional, and academic skills can make schools, whether remote or in-person, welcoming and nurturing for all. High-quality pre-K programs, excellent public school options, high expectations, and high quality tools and resources all guide students toward meeting milestones and achieving their dreams.
Volunteers and Seattle Schools Nutrition Staff at Denny International Middle School prepare and distribute meals for children in the community in Seattle, WA on July 22, 2020. Through the PowerOf partners and DonorsChoose, community members can help Seattle school teachers and the communities they serve through volunteer opportunities and donations. PowerOf is centered around facilitating community involvement and specifically helping areas impacted by COVID-19.
Volunteers and and staff at Denny International Middle School in Seattle, Washington, distribute books and meals to students.

Local roots, global impact

Our Seattle-based employees are active and engaged members of our hometown, and the foundation matches their personal giving and volunteer time. In total, the foundation adds about $1.5 billion to the local economy every year.

Visit our Washington State website

For more details on our work to support students and families across Washington State, please visit our program website.

AREAS OF FOCUS

Areas of focus

In our home state, we focus on helping our partners expand their work in four areas.

Quality pre-K encourages play and curiosity, promotes critical thinking, and helps children process and understand emotions, resolve conflicts, and solve problems on their own. These critical skills help set them up for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and our investments in education support students from pre-K through postsecondary education by promoting their social, emotional, and academic development. A great education system benefits all students, and to ensure a more equitable system, we focus our attention and resources where they are needed most—with Black, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native/Indigenous, immigrant, first-generation, and low-income students.

Family homelessness was one of the first challenges the Washington State program took on. Between 2000 and 2008, our Sound Families Initiative helped build nearly 1,500 transitional homes for families with children in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. Between 2008 and 2020, we worked with Building Changes to improve crisis response, with a focus on recognizing families’ innate strengths, fostering collaboration, streamlining systems, and using resources more efficiently. Thanks to proven principles such as prevention and diversion, coordinated entry, and rapid rehousing (housing first), we have seen significant improvements in our state’s crisis response systems: Families that become homeless are spending less time in the system and are less likely to reenter it once housed.

However, the number of people becoming homeless has increased due to larger societal issues, such as a lack of affordable housing, that our strategy was not designed to address. At the end of 2020, we phased out the crisis response portion of our work, but we continue to invest in other efforts to address and prevent homelessness. Learn more about this work here.

The most effective and sustainable solutions come from communities themselves. We work with other local philanthropies and community foundations to support our state’s nonprofit ecosystem in a way that promotes equity and values community leadership, innovation, and initiative.

WHY FOCUS ON WASHINGTON STATE?

Why focus on Washington State?

We have a deep commitment to improving the lives of students and families in Washington State, where the Gates family has lived for generations.

Our identity as Washingtonians is built on innovation and opportunity. We value our vibrant neighborhoods and natural beauty, we care about our state, and we care about each other. But structural racism and systemic barriers in our education and economic systems prevent too many of our students from reaching their full potential, and these same barriers prevent all of us from living up to our ideals.

These issues not only affect our children right now, but they have consequences for the future of our economy and our quality of life. The industries that drive Washington’s economy—technology, science, health, and international trade—require a well-educated workforce. Our democracy requires that we invest in well-educated and engaged youth who can become the next generation of leaders.

Our futures are more interconnected than ever. If we want a strong economy, a strong democracy, and vibrant, healthy communities, we must provide all our kids—especially those who have been historically marginalized or who are facing barriers of racism and poverty—with better, more equitable educational opportunities.

King County Branch Library at the Greenbridge mixed-income housing development, White Center, Seattle.
Visitors to a county library branch in White Center, a community south of Seattle, Washington.

Strategy leadership

RELATED PROGRAMS

Related programs

Students, like this 8th grade social studies class in Chicago, need safe, nurturing learning environments where they are equipped to meet high standards.
K-12 Education

The K-12 Education team supports educators and public schools in improving educational outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty.  

Postsecondary Success

The Postsecondary Success team supports colleges and universities in making institutional reforms that eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of educational success.

Economic Mobility & Opportunity
The Economic Mobility and Opportunity team works with partners to ensure that more people in the United States can climb the economic ladder and improve their lives.