March 2nd, 2012 Continued Education Cuts Would Show Misplaced Priorities in the State Legislature Since the financial crisis, we have heard in the media that if we want our economy to grow, wemust have low taxes. But there is another factor that is at least as important to a strong economy:education. Throughout the state’s history, successive generations have agreed to pay taxes to educate thenext generation. This is why we have lived in a society with so much prosperity and opportunity for solong. Today, we have abandoned the very idea that one generation should pay for the next generation’seducation. By doing so, we are putting our economic future in jeopardy. On February 4th 2010, King County Superior Court Judge John Eric ruled that the state had failedin its constitutional duty to fully fund education for the state’s schoolchildren. Since then, our educationsystem has seen further cuts. Our class sizes have increased, and many of our schools are overcrowded.Our teachers and counselors are being laid off. We’ve seen many students not given full class schedulesdue to overcrowding, and we’ve seen others forced to pay Running Start tuition or online tuition tofulfill basic graduation requirements in what is supposed to be a free public school system. At some ofour schools, our teachers are even forced to buy basic supplies like paper out of their own pockets. Ontop of all this, college tuition rates have increased substantially, and there are fewer spots for in-statestudents. Higher education funding in this state has been cut in half over the last four years. On January 5th, the State Supreme Court upheld the previous ruling. Despite that, legislators onboth sides of the aisle say they will cut education funding even further in the current session. High school students understand that many of these cuts are necessary. We have not protestedcuts in any of the previous budget cycles since the financial crisis. We understand that everyone mustpay their share of the costs incurred by the state due to the financial crisis. That is precisely our problem: everyone needs to pay for those costs. Today, not everyone does.While the state has made substantial cuts to our education, it has not asked the wealthiest residents inour state to pay an extra penny in taxes. Many in the legislature think this is the right course of action.They want reforms before they consider higher taxes. But while the legislature talks about reform, ithasn’t actually been able to fill its budget gap through such action. Instead, it has used the word reformwhile taking the easy way out. It has cut services to those who are the least politically organized, likestudents.
We saw an example of this in December’s special session. The State Legislature voted against ameasure to cut bonuses that the State gives to its employees for carpooling to work, while educationcuts remained on the table. The money the legislature would have saved wasn’t much, but it did showthat some legislators believe bonuses for carpooling are more important than funding education. In another case last year, the legislature failed to remove a tax exemption for mortgage interestrates, yet passed substantial cuts to education. In the current legislative session, the legislature islooking at several reforms that would make the tax structure more progressive and raise much neededrevenue for education. Many legislators have categorically refused to consider such reforms. In doingso, they have said that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important to the state than education. The legislature struggles to understand what its priorities should be and students suffer. In 1984,Americans over 29 were 10 times as rich as their younger counterparts. Today, they are 47 times as rich.22% of Americans under 18 live in poverty (compared to 15% of the general public). Only 55.3% ofAmericans aged 16-29 have jobs. Last year, student loans surpassed credit cards as the largest form ofAmerican debt. Our age group has been hit harder than any other during the financial crisis. Despitethis, half of the State’s budget gaps have been filled by cutting education funding. The Washington State Department of Revenue released a report showing that the state willhand out $23.9 billion in 452 special tax exemptions from 2011 to 2013. If the legislature had itspriorities in order, it would cut from this pool of tax breaks before cutting education. Our schools aren’tfacing budget cuts simply out of necessity. They are facing budget cuts because of the state’s misplacedpriorities. Every time we cut education funding, we take out a mortgage on the dreams and aspirations ofan entire generation; a mortgage which we will have to pay back in the future. We have paid our shareof the costs incurred by the state due to the financial crisis. If necessary, we are willing to pay evenmore. But first, we have to ask everyone to pay their fair share, including the rich. Along with that, wemust truly reform Washington’s public services. Education cuts should not be the first order of businessin Olympia; they should be the last. For these reasons, we join other students who have protested, written letters, and testified atpublic meetings over the last several months in calling on the legislature not to cut education beforeexhausting the other options available to it. It’s time the legislature remembered what its constitutional,economic, and moral obligations really are.