|A welcome nudge from Microsoft|
A part of the Microsoft campus in Redmond sits largely empty on Dec. 17, 2020. Microsoft, which has continued paying the wages of hourly workers idled... (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times) More
Sometimes state decision-makers need a generous nudge from outside.
That came this month as Microsoft and other major employers urged Gov. Jay Inslee to hurry up and help get students back in school.
This welcome effort is only the latest show of civic leadership by the Redmond software giant and Washington’s extraordinary business community.
Despite toxic, anti-employer politics emanating from Seattle’s City Council, the Seattle area’s largest companies stepped up this year in remarkable ways. Both Microsoft and Amazon, for instance, continued paying wages of idled hourly workers even though their campuses are largely closed and contributed generously to help enable remote learning.
Now they are focusing on ways to get through the remainder of the pandemic, restore communities, create more opportunity and continue the state’s economic vitality.
That includes expediting the return of in-person education, particularly in grades K-5.
Opening schools turns out to be not as risky as initially feared, if disease transmission rates are relatively low in the surrounding community.
What’s also become clear is that keeping schools closed is causing severe harm to overall student progress and worsening inequity.
You know it’s bad when even Microsoft executives are distressed by how much time students are spending online on PCs and calling for a return to in-person learning.
Inslee responded promptly, adjusting the state’s safety threshold for school re-openings to a more reasonable level. That should lead to more district openings early next year.
Microsoft President Brad Smith went further and arranged to help provide safety equipment in schools statewide, in part by sharing the company’s supplies.
The company will also provide online health reporting for every school district, so local educators and families can easily see and monitor disease incidence and other factors affecting school closures.
Microsoft also is using its influence to urge early vaccination of teachers, particularly those who face greater risks from COVID-19.
Altogether this effort should benefit teachers, families and the 1.1 million students in Washington’s K-12 schools.
Microsoft also announced that it will increase its support of hourly workers and nonprofits in the state to around $250 million, with a new commitment of around $110 million.
It will continuing paying hourly workers’ wages until campuses fully return, potentially in early July.
Nonprofits received more than $98 million so far this year from the company, including around $67 million in cash and $31 million worth of technology, services and meals for needy students and families that are being provided by its cafeterias.
This is all over and above the enormous contribution that such companies make by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly.
Their success is keeping Washington’s economy relatively stable this year and enabling Washington state and even Seattle to continue spending heavily on public services.
That’s never enough for some.
But we should put politics aside this week and be grateful for support and gifts, small and large, from all our generous neighbors.