Kids love cake – so let them eat it

Brendan Williams

Guest column by Brendan Williams, former Washington State legislator

Given that the state’s “paramount” constitutional duty is “to make ample provision for” K-12 education, the focus on proposed budget cuts affecting kids is, not surprisingly, on education.

This focus is not undeserved. Even as it made a false promise of education reform in 2009, the Legislature was decimating education funding. Suspended, again, were voter-passed initiatives aimed at reducing class sizes and compensating K-12 staff. Following that, class sizes have ballooned and teachers have been laid off. It would be hard enough to quantify the harm to the future from this year’s first special session as Democrats happily voted along with Senate Republicans.

Now, in the second special session, it gets worse.

A proposal is before the Legislature to shortchange learners by subtracting 4 days from the school year – or 2.2% of the knowledge they would acquire in a full school year.

Because this would also reduce school employees’ salaries by 2.2%, it is also the sort of back-door attack on collective bargaining becoming common in our state. We’re more subtle than Scott Walker, but no less anti-labor. One Democratic senator defending teachers’ pay cuts of 3% last session initially refused to take a voluntary cut herself – publicly complaining she was underpaid. “Priorities of government,” after all.

A proposed reduction in levy equalization dollars from the state would further ensure proximity to the eastern shores of Lake Washington is what matters most for a quality education. Even a 10-month delay in state payments for school bus replacement may mean the wheels on the bus do not go “‘round and round’” in some poor districts.

While these proposed cuts will draw attention, not the least because the governor proposes to “buy back” two of them (levy equalization and a shorter school year) with a revenue referendum, there are other potential injuries to children.

These include an insidious additional harm to schools by shifting to them the state’s costs of school-based Medicaid services, such as speech therapy (from which I benefited as a kid) and occupational therapy.

Other proposed cuts include adding child clients for overworked child welfare social workers (can you say, “Lawsuit”?) and eliminating child welfare services themselves for 5,700 children. Those include sex abuse recognition training and, to complete the circle, services for sexually-abused children through advocacy centers. Those abused kids would be further battered by a proposed 10% reduction to domestic violence shelters.

Even a 10% reduction in family planning funding, affecting up to 5,000 clients, would carry with it the cruel irony of producing unwanted children who will suffer future cuts from state government. Upon being born, if they are born drug-addicted, they can be welcomed to this world by the proposed cut to Kent’s Pediatric Interim Care Center – not to mention the proposed elimination of state-subsidized child care for 4,000 kids.

Welfare payments for families would also be slashed. Consider that yet another dismal postscript to the Clinton/Gingrich “welfare reform” of 1996. Letters of appreciation can be sent to former Clinton advisor Dick Morris care of FOX News and/or the Gingrich for President Campaign. Sorry kids – you’ve been triangulated.

It actually gets worse if you’re an undocumented immigrant child. Then you get to be among 11,400 residents of our state who may be denied even state food assistance.

None of these needs were deemed worthy of proposed revenue salvation. Thus they illustrate why that revenue proposal – despite being commendable for starting a conversation – is insufficient.

There was a time, after all, when Democrats cared about the poor, and poor children in particular. In a final interview before his assassination, Robert F. Kennedy remarked, “I think back to what Camus wrote about the fact that perhaps this world is a world in which children suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will do this?”

Who indeed?

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