A few weeks back, Gov. Christine Gregoire called agroup of education stakeholders together to talk about the newest state budgetprojections. You know the news isn’t good when the governor says she can’t takecuts to education “off the table.” With education being the paramount duty ofthe state, one might expect funding to be protected somehow. One would bewrong. See, this new $2 billion deficit is just the latest challenge – we’vecut the fat, stretched our pennies, and in higher education, got down to thebone. The question is, whose bones? If you believe thatyou can’t grow the economy by cutting alone, those bones belong to the nextgeneration of entrepreneurs, investors and teachers. Cut education – lay offteachers, reading assistants and counselors – what do you have? A short-sightedfix to a long-term budget problem. A carousel of cuts with no end in sight.That’s some plan for economic development.
How did we get here? We made it impossible forlegislators to use any tool but a budget axe to make chart our economic future.Initiative 1053 hangs around us like the proverbial albatross,taking away options, limiting the possibilities and all but ensuring that wefigure out how to “cut our way to the solution.” We still believe that we canfuel an economy on sales tax – in an environment where no one is spending moneythey don’t have to. We fail to recognize that every layoff of a public employeeputs one more person on unemployment compensation and takes one more consumerout of the marketplace. And we show our true colors about our belief thateducation is the ticket to the promised land by making it more and moredifficult for kids to get what they need to succeed. Don’t believe it? Talk toa school administrator about the cuts from this year alone:
- Their reward for good fiscal management in previous years? Depleted reserves. Districts from Tacoma to Federal Way to North Franklin are going into savings to protect teacher salaries, education programs and the number of school days.
- Drastic reductions in classified staff who provide critical services and support to schools and kids.
- Shortened school years and reduced days – less instruction time for kids.
- The end of summer school, after-school programs and access to advanced placement courses.
So the answer we give to our kids when they ask uswhat we did to solve the biggest crisis of our generation is: we whiffed.
I think it goes without saying – we need somenew thinking here. New ways of structuring the work of education. New ways ofthinking about funding. And new expectations for what it means to provide forthe paramount duty we owe to our kids. This month, we will examine many anglesof the current budget dilemma. We’ve asked guest bloggers – parents, teachers,administrators, legislators, community leaders – to join us to share theirperspectives. I’ve talked to superintendents of many school districts who sharetheir experience on an upcoming podcast. And we invite you to tell us yourstory. Send us your solutions. This mess didn’t just happen to or with one ofus, and it’s going to take all of us to get out of it.