Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Washington and its schools depend on levy dollars

In my spare time last week, I made phone calls on behalf of my school district’s levy campaign. I would rather scrub toilets than phone voters, but I powered through it because I know how serious the consequences would be if my school district’s levy and bond measures were to fail.

Washington’s schools depend heavily on local levies and bonds in order to plug budget gaps caused by inadequate state funding. Even though state law requires Washington to fund a basic education for all students, and our constitution considers education to be the state's “paramount duty, the money delivered by the state doesn’t cover school necessities. Originally created to allow districts to pay for “enhancements" to their school programs, school levies now contribute up to one quarter of districts’ budgets. The “enhancements” that levies cover include textbooks, supplies, buses, athletics, support staff and special education. These all sound pretty basic to me.

On February 9, school districts across Washington will be asking voters to approve levy and bond measures. Most of those measures will just be renewals, that is, they will renew existing funding that is expiring, and therefore most homeowners won’t see much of a change in their tax bills if their levies win approval. My school district, Lake Washington, is growing, so it will also be running a new bond measure to build two new schools for the added students they expect to teach. Students aren't stackable - our buildings have to keep up with enrollment.

My purpose in contacting voters last week was not to persuade, but to find out which voters support the levy and bond measures. If I was allowed to persuade, I would have had a lot to say to the mother who told me that she wasn’t sure if she would vote to renew our district’s levies because “her children go to Catholic school.” On the surface, her viewpoint may seem reasonable. She is already paying for her children’s education, why should she also pay for schools they don't attend?

The thing is, when we give tax dollars to our schools, we are supporting the whole school system, not just our own kids, just like when our tax dollars go to our city to pay for police and fire protection. If we decide to hire a security guard or to install a fire sprinkler system in our home, that doesn’t mean that we stop supporting our community’s public safety. We do care about the well-being of our neighbors. The public grief over the Lakewood police tragedy makes that obvious.

But not only that, when we support our schools, police or fire departments, we are helping and protecting those in our community that we rely on: our teachers, doctors, bus drivers, grocery stores, credit unions and others.

It’s in our own best interest to keep our communities safe and strong, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to educate children. Poorly educated people consume more public dollars in social and law enforcement services than the better-educated do, plus they contribute less in tax dollars.

What kind of future do you see for kids without a good education? A low-paying job, health problems, crime? These kids won’t start new businesses or design the next-big-thing that creates jobs for our economy. What a waste of potential and a drain on society.

What I wished I could tell the private school mom is that she can take her children out of the public education system, but as a member of our community she has a responsibility to put some resources in. It’s in her best interest.


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