One of the greatest things about our country is we believe in giving everybody, rich or poor, a fair shot in school and in life.
That includes our kids.
That’s why we have free public schools, open to everybody. Because we believe in opportunity not for some, but for all.
Other countries didn’t do this. Education was reserved for the sons and daughters of the wealthy, while average people were lucky if their children got a few years of schooling before they entered a lifetime of work.
Washington was one of the leaders of the modern public school movement. Giving every child a basic education is enshrined in our state constitution as the “paramount duty” of the state.
Yet people debating what “basic education” meant and the state’s way of funding schools was haphazard. Some school districts had the resources to give children a decent education. Other districts always struggled.
That changed in 1895, when lawmakers passed the Barefoot Schoolboy Act, aimed at making sure every child got an education — and the state funded it.
It happened because Rep. John Rogers had the vision to see things were changing. Instead of working on farms, children would be working in factories as America and the world rapidly turned to the Industrial Age.
The vision and courage of leaders like John Rogers has served our state well. But now we’re facing a similar, gigantic shift in the world economy.
Our children need the best possible education because they’ll need it to win the global fight for the best jobs in the world.
And the same problem we faced in the 1890s is with our communities today. Because the state has failed to fully fund basic education, homeowners in Sequim, Forks and Port Townsend are paying more in property taxes through local levies to fund their schools than homeowners in Seattle.
Just like inequities that existed in the 1890s, our local schools are struggling to get by.
We can do better.
Better for kids in Port Angeles and Hoquiam.
Better for our local businesses, who need a highly educated workforce.
And better for local taxpayers, now paying more than their fair share to get less.
This is the defining challenge of the 2017 legislative session — and it’s been a long time coming.
I’ll work with lawmakers from both parties, and every corner of the state, to find common ground and a solution that fully funds schools for the 1.1 million students in our state.
What I won’t do is accept more delays and excuses.
Our kids are counting on us. Let’s work together, in the spirit of John Rogers, to do what’s right for boys and girls in every corner of the great state of Washington.
Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) is a former Clallam County commissioner and law enforcement officer. He serves as Vice Chair of the House Agriculture &Natural Resources Committee. Contact Chapman at Mike.Chapman@leg.wa.gov, 360-786-7916 or House of Representatives, PO Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.