SOMETIMES, I long for high school.
No, I am not a sentimental revisionist nostalgic for a better time (nor am I masochist). I am the parent of a Washington state high-school sophomore, and I admit it: I wish her high-school opportunities were more like mine, in the late ’70s in Brookline, Mass.
For starters, I wish her day held seven periods instead of six. The generally accepted standard is seven. The Washington state Legislature funds only five periods a day.
I wish the teachers in my daughter’s high school didn’t have to contend with uncertain enrollment numbers before the start of school — and enormous classes until Oct. 1, the official (and arbitrary) day that Washington has designated official enrollment-count day.
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I wish her high school had more than one librarian and up-to-date technology.
I wish the response I get, when I say these wishes out loud, was less “not all kids are destined to go to college” and more “although not all kids are destined to go to college, we ought to make sure we educate them as if they were.”
And what that boils down to is my one wish: that my daughter’s high school, and every public school in Washington, was adequately funded. And, of course, I’m not the only one: the Washington state Supreme Court just instructed the Legislature to fulfill its “paramount duty” and fully fund public education. The budget that was just passed nods in this direction with $1 billion in funding, but doesn’t go far enough or fast enough.
Some years ago, a Seattle-area high school could not afford chemistry textbooks, which made the news. This year, the Ingraham PTSA purchased International Baccalaureate (IB) biology textbooks.
This didn’t make the news, but in my mind, the real story here is: in a school district where an alumni group spent $100,000 on sports banners for a high-school gym, other schools in that district cannot afford books.
The dearth of funding causes anxiety, and anxiety isn’t good for kids. One fairly traditional way to fund public education is through an income tax. The alma mater I long for is in Massachusetts, sometimes called “Taxachusetts.”
Some of the resources that taxes provide for kids who go to Brookline High today are: the equivalent of 7.5 periods over the course of a school week; four librarians; fourteen guidance counselors, and 74 teams in 40 different sports.
This is what a well-funded education can provide, and the kids who are educated in Brookline’s system are competing against Washington state students for college entry and jobs. We have Amazon.com, Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks in our state. These companies are defining and fueling the future. It is shameful that we, the taxpayers, do not value education highly enough to pay for it.
It puzzles me why my fellow Washingtonians are so passionately opposed to an income tax, when our current tax structure is regressive and puts huge pressure on people and families on the lower end of the income scale. I say this: Lower the state sales tax to 5 or 6 percent and institute a modest income tax in Washington state. It is time.
The point of public education, when it was instituted in the U.S., was to educate the electorate, so we would be capable of self-governance. Let’s self govern, shall we? Let’s hold our elected officials accountable and insist that they put in place a plan to fund public education adequately, so Washington state students can compete with their peers, nationally, and are prepared for college and work.
It is time to write letters, to travel to Olympia so the next biennial budget session doesn’t have to go nearly three rounds.
It is time to camp out in the hallways of Olympia and demand that our elected officials do the people’s business and meet their “paramount duty,” to educate our kids.
Now. Now is the time.
Christine Johnson-Duell is a poet, essayist and Hedgebrook alumna. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Washington.