Were this the classically earnest editorial endorsement, we would begin with a solemn recital of all the good things to be said about Bainbridge Island public schools – the excellence of the curriculum, the stratospheric test scores, the high number of graduates matriculating to four-year universities, the extraordinary dedication of the teachers and staff, the array of co-curricular activities that channel our kids’ energies to positive ends.
We would then proceed to lay out a few choice arguments as to why the levy is needed – how the three-year, $23.1 million measure funds 20 percent of basic school services, including classroom instruction and materials, counseling, building maintenance, transportation – and note that as a “renewal” levy it simply maintains current programs without adding any new bells or whistles. We would then make token mention of one or two arguments against the levy, straw men that we would summarily debunk before concluding with a grand rhetorical flourish carefully crafted to move the heart as well as the mind.
But it’s not. You’d see through the formula, and you’ll vote “Yes” on the levy anyway because it’s the right thing to do. So let us turn our attention instead to what happens after the levy passes.
Last week in this space, we noted the recent lawsuit filed by a consortium of parents, educators and school districts (including our own) against the State of Washington, seeking to force the state to finally, fully fund public schools. The lawsuit focuses on three operative terms found in the state Constitution’s provision on public education: “paramount,” “ample” and “all.”
As it now stands, school funding competes for the state tax dollar with a panoply of other needs – roads, social services, public safety, capital construction, what have you. Worthy, all – except that education never really gets its due, and local districts are left to make up the difference through supplemental funding levies like the one now before island voters.
The lawsuit contends that the state should instead determine the real cost of public education – that is, ample education for all students – and then fund schools at that level, thus meeting the state’s constitutionally imposed paramount duty. The effect would be to take education spending out of competition with other state programs, and put it above the whims and politics of the day. As the lawsuit contends, “paramount” means just that: paramount. Put schools first.
It’s a compelling argument, elegant in its simplicity. (The text of the lawsuit makes quick reading, and can be found at www.waschoolexcellence.org.) Certainly, many would welcome a court decision settling the matter once and for all. But it would be so much simpler for legislators – and this is where you come in – to just acknowledge the state’s ongoing failure to properly fund public schools, and to change the way they do business. Not next session, and not after the lawsuit finally wends its way through the courts. Now.
You’ll vote for the Bainbridge school levy because it’s the right thing to do, but don’t stop there. Once the levy is passed, tell your legislators you’ve done your part and it’s time they do theirs.
• A Wednesday obituary for Tilghman Boyd Evans was incomplete. The notice is reprinted with complete information today.
• Due to an editing error, paranthetical information in a Wednesday letter by Dana Quitslund misstated his family relationship with Garnie Quitslund. The two are cousins.