Commentary: We can’t fail to provide an ample education to all kids

By John Lovick

Never before has education meant so much to so many.

The quality of the education given to our children will determine the fate of our local businesses, our state’s prosperity — and the lives of every one of our students.

Yet the children of today aren’t all getting the same opportunities for a great education.

If you live in a working class or middle-class neighborhood, your kids or grandkids get a lesser education than children lucky to live in wealthier ZIP codes. If you are Hispanic, African-American, or native American, your children are more likely to face educational barriers that white students never encounter.

Part of the reason is wealthier areas collect higher property taxes. And part of the reason is the broken, dysfunctional nature of how we fund public schools.

This is unfair, unconstitutional and has to change. Because every child deserves an opportunity to learn.

This problem was much easier to recognize in the deep South, during segregation. It was more blatant, with separate public schools for white kids and black kids.

I grew up in Louisiana, in a cotton town owned and run by a rich white landowner. So I know what segregation looks like, and how destructive it is for families.

If you want to oppress a population, deny them an education. This is what happened for generations with African-Americans, women and other minority groups.

True equality didn’t come from words alone, whether they came from new laws or court opinions. True equality came when women and people of color could go to the same schools and universities. When they could learn the same skills and have the same jobs as anybody else.

This is why, as Gwen Ifill wrote in her book “The Breakthrough,” fixing troubled schools qualifies as a modern-day civil rights movement.

Segregation is officially over in the South. Yet, here in Washington, our schools are still segregated by class and race. It’s not as blatant, but it’s just as destructive to our kids.

Separate is still not equal. And we can do better.

It’s worth looking at our history here in America, where we pioneered the very idea of public schools. In other countries, only the rich could afford to send their sons and daughters to private schools. Most children dropped out after a few years to work on the farm or in factories to help support the family.

Washington state was also among the leaders in education when John Rogers, then a state legislator, pushed through the Barefoot Schoolboy Act more than 100 years ago, guaranteeing an opportunity for a high school education for every child.

Rogers, who later became the state’s third governor, fought for this law because he realized things were changing, with factories replacing farms. He believed giving every child a better education would give our state a brighter future. And he was right.

Our state Supreme Court agrees that today’s education system is built on a flawed, unequal foundation. The justices ruled in the McCleary case that lawmakers must fully fund our public schools — every school, not just the ones in wealthy ZIP codes.

Finding a solution to this problem is the biggest issue facing lawmakers and the people of our state. Lawmakers have added $4.5 billion new dollars to K-12 schools in recent years. That’s a great start, but there’s still much more work to do.

There are one million children in our public schools who are counting on us. One million kids who just want to study hard and learn. Two million moms and dads who want the best for their kids and four million grandmothers and grandparents ready to show up on graduation day to cheer them on.

If we put aside party labels and old fights, we can work through the details and find a solution that works for all of our kids.

Every child deserves a great education. Let’s work together to give them exactly that.

State Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, served in the Coast Guard and State Patrol before being elected Snohomish County Sheriff and Snohomish County Executive. He is a proud father and grandfather.

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