There are really two Washingtons.
In one, as John Rogers, second governor of the state said, “The rich can take care of themselves.”
The political system is working very well for them right now.
In the other Washington, families worry about jobs and send their kids and hopes to struggling public schools and can only fund college dreams with massive student loans. In this other Washington, despite the economic boom, one out of five kids lives in poverty.
That’s a recipe for failure. Families are where education starts. When families struggle, education fails.
Ask your kid’s teacher about the impact of trouble at home on a child. They know, whether it’s because the paper mill closed down and a parent lost a job or the family’s having trouble with addiction or mental illness. It can happen to anybody.
Trouble at home means trouble at school, no matter how smart a kid is. It’s impossible to think about differential equations when a little girl is hungry or worried about where she’ll sleep tonight.
The $10 billion in state budget cuts during the Great Recession hurt families, too. Today’s booming economy is mostly helping the already rich. The number of homeless kids increased 12 percent over last year in our state and now stands at more than 30,000 kids.
More cuts to universities would only makes it more impossible for average families — and our state — to fight for the best jobs in the world. Because a high school degree isn’t enough today.
The state Supreme Court ruled funding for public schools was inadequate and that education was the “paramount duty” of the Legislature under our state constitution. Which is true. What’s untrue is this myth that all we have to do is “fund education first” while cutting everything else. That’s the road to disaster for middle class families. Sick, hungry, stressed, and homeless kids can’t learn.
And it’s not what the founding fathers of the state meant in 1889. They didn’t stop funding the rest of the state constitution and ignore every other duty of the state to its citizens. They funded the state militia and the new state penitentiary. They built roads and dealt with the hard economic times, with no excuses.
Back then, mental health treatment consisted of whiskey and guns. Life expectancy was 42 years, so the state didn’t have to worry about taking care of seniors. Only about 70 percent of kids went to any sort of school, for any amount of time, with nationally 13 percent graduating from high school and 3 percent going to college, mostly on the East Coast, not in the Wild West. It was a very different place.
The words “paramount duty” about education in our state’s constitution were not and can’t be viewed as the only words in that state constitution, or as our only duty to families. The parents who brought the McCleary lawsuit to the court know that cutting services that help families function harms a child’s chance to get an education. The justices of the court know this also, since they just issued another ruling saying it’s unconstitutional to not fund a real mental health system.
“Fund education first” certainly wasn’t what lawmakers did in the first state Legislature back in 1889 but they knew education funding mattered. They didn’t stop all other basic services like roads and public safety, because they knew education only wasn’t smart back then, just as it isn’t today.
So in 1895 Puyallup legislator John Rankin Rogers brought together a “fusion” coalition of Democrats, Populists and Republicans to pass the Barefoot Schoolboy Act to raise taxes for public schools, to make sure every child — rich or poor — got a basic education through high school.
How did citizens react to new taxes for fund public school educations for every child?
They elected Rogers governor.
Gov. Rogers showed courage and vision. He didn’t take the easy path. He ran uphill, against the odds, to do something big for every child in this state, a decision that is still helping the children of today.
Today’s Legislature should have the courage of John Rogers and build a fusion coalition to truly fund education and higher education without tearing apart everything else that supports families and protects seniors, the disabled, our environment and creates jobs.
Real funding for our local schools means fixing a flawed, unfair tax structure that benefits the wealthy while hammering the middle class and working people.
This isn’t 1889, and this isn’t the time for rhetorical cherry picking and writing budgets based on what bumper sticker sounds best.
Courage is about keeping the American Dream alive for every child in this state. Not just the children of the wealthy few, but the sons and daughters of loggers, waitresses and construction workers.
In the depths of a recession, Gov. John Rogers had the guts to do what was right for kids and families in every corner of the state. Let’s do it again, for all of our kids and grandkids.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, is a former volunteer firefighter and small business owner. He is chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, which controls the state’s construction budget.