Washington state, like most states today, is struggling to match its expenditures with revenues. A more cavalier attitude in the past about future obligations–such as pension liabilitiess–is coming home to roost. At the same time, the recession is impacting people’s willingness to spend their discretionary income, a significant problem in a state that is overly dependent on sales taxes to pay the bills.
The result of this unfortunate confluence has been significant, in some cases crippling, cuts to programs which were sacrosanct just a couple of years ago. Subsidized health care for the poor, prisons, tourism advertising, higher education, k-12 education are just a few examples.
The cuts have been severe; the impacts will be long-lasting. Less available health care access means emergency rooms are already seeing increased use for acute, but non-emergency needs. Lower ratios of guards to inmates is making prisons less safe for both the corrections officers and prisoners. Education cuts are being partially offset by rapidly escalating tuition levels, and by increased k-12 school levies, but those offsets only reduce the pain, they do not alleviate it. Across the board, these types of cuts mortgage the future to the detriment of both the future and the present; the long-term aggregate costs are going to be far more than if we ponied up appropriately, now.
Education has been particularly hard hit. About a quarter of the cuts in Washington’s budget have been at the expense of education, at a time when we should be doing everything we can to maintain, or even increase educational access, from pre-kindergarten through public post-graduate universities. If we want to get out of our economic doldrums sooner, rather than later, we need to have a better-educated population.
Education leads to many behaviors that help people as individuals, but importantly creates significant societal benefits; the education we py for collectively makes our families, communities, states, and our nation stronger and more resilient, whatever the challenges thrown our way. Analysis by the blog, ‘Calculated Risk,’ (a great, readable and informative blog) demonstrate one aspect of why this is important, in unemployment rates for people over 25, sorted by education levels. In 2010, people over 25 with less than a high school diploma had unemployment levels hovering near 16 percent. About ten percent of those with only a high school diploma were unemployed. For those with some college, or an Associates of Arts degree, the rate dropped to eight percent. But for those with a bachelor’s degree or more on their resume, even at the peak of the recession, unemployment was less than five percent.
These facts alone argue for granting a more protected status in budget processes. When coupled with the additional benefits provided by increased access to education, it seems clear that as a state–and as a nation–we ought to be doing better in funding this fundamental component of a successful economy and successful society. Kids staying in school are less likely to join gangs or act out criminally. Students in college are not competing for jobs at a time when they are scarce. Community college programs, wonderfully adaptive to changing markets, retrain workers from declining industries to compete in the new economy. And the entrepreneurial class on which so much of our economic life blood is dependent, is over-represented by those who are more educated.
To me, ethics and self-interest come together in funding education. All children deserve to have access to the tools, the education, the training which allows them to realize their potential. Fortuitously, it also means that I am more likely to have better medical care, that Social Security will be fully funded, that crime rates will be lower, that my children will have a better world, as we develop a greater capacity as a community, in every aspect of what makes communities better.
The founders of Washington State got this. In drafting our state constitution, alone among all the United State, the included the following clause:
It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Article IX, Section 1, Washington State Constitution
Our legislators the need to find a way to more adequately fund our future, by meeting the needs for educating our children and young adults. And we need to support the Legislature as they work to address this. This is a tough time to be in office; but accepting the unacceptable should never be an option. Let’s work with them, supporting them as they work to meet their–our obligations to the Washington Constitution. And lets hold accountable those who fail our Constitution and our children.