Washington state lawmakers failed their responsibility to the state's students by eroding support for education, writes Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian. He proposes an income tax on people earning more than $250,000 — an idea recent polls say Americans largely support.

Share story

NO one ever said teaching middle school would be easy.

Last week, however, truly tried my patience. You’d think, by this time in the school year, they’d know not to fabricate elaborate excuses for incomplete work.

No, I am not ranting about unruly students in my third period.

I’m referring to delinquent Washington state lawmakers who approved a two-year operating budget in this past legislative session that fails students and teachers by cutting a staggering $800 million from a school system that already ranks 45th in the nation in per-pupil spending. The bulk of the cuts come from voiding Initiative 728, the voter-approved class-size-reduction initiative designed to address our class-size ranking of 46th in the nation.

Astoundingly, these representatives maintain they are champions for public education because of their much-touted House Bill 2261 that promised to redefine basic education to include tools educators need to prepare kids for college.

But even my student who attempted to excuse himself from an incomplete assignment by explaining to me that temporary amnesia is a clinical condition — not to be confused with merely forgetting — would blush at the litany of half-truths and pretexts in the past legislative session.

Even if the mix of needed change and misguided policy in HB 2261 was able to help prepare students for college, our representatives didn’t fund the bill and put higher education out of reach for many by increasing four-year college tuition by 14 percent and two-year college tuition by 7 percent. Furthermore, this new budget denies Washington’s teachers their voter-approved cost-of-living raise, reduces math coaches and curriculum offerings for primary-school kids, and will result in thousands of teacher layoffs and more disastrous school closures.

An education-reform bill without the funding is like the kid who once told me he really had finished his essay, but I just couldn’t see it because it was written in invisible ink. True story.

Predictably, the Republicans in the state Legislature showed why their party is about as popular as the meal-money-thieving lunchroom bully, claiming the cuts weren’t deep enough.

However, you can be excused for forgetting which party is in charge in Olympia when the Democrats use their legislative majority to erode education.

“I’m tired of whining and complaining,” said Senate Budget Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton. “I’d like to have a whole lot more money, but you know, we don’t.”

But as I tell my students, complaining only becomes whining when you don’t propose a solution.

At the Representative Assembly of the Seattle Education Association on April 20, I submitted a resolution proposing what nearly three-quarters of Americans in a recent CBS/NY Times poll indicated is needed to solve the fiscal crisis: taxing the rich.

This resolution, calling for a progressive income tax that would exempt anyone making less than $250,000 a year, passed with some 90 percent of SEA votes. The Economic Opportunity Institute has shown that with a mere 3-percent tax on incomes between $200,000 and $999,999 and a 5-percent tax on incomes over $1 million, the state could immediately raise $2.58 billion — more than enough to stop the education cuts in addition to cuts to health care and General Assistance-Unemployable program. Democrats in the Legislature could have helped Washington join the 43 other states with an income tax, but didn’t get the bill out of committee.

Yes, insatiable CEOs trading in asset-backed securities caused a recession, making it hard to raise the money needed to continue basic funding commitments. But teachers, parents, (and yes, even middle-school students with temporary amnesia) are tired of lawmakers’ “dog-ate-my-homework” excuses for neglecting schools in one of the wealthiest regions the world has ever known.

This week, I will have the students in my third period interpret the poem “Cloth” by Phillip Pulfrey:

We weave our excuses around events.

Thin, poor quality cloth of justification

Poor substitutes for the heavy tribal blankets

Once we wove to wrap our children.

Jesse D. Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools and a member of the Seattle Education Association.