Walter Backstrom | There's enough cash — just not enough courage


Gov. Christine Gregoire decided that support for schools should be cut by millions of dollars. I am trying to understand that if there is not enough money for schools, then there is not enough money for anything.

According to the Washington state Constitution, a number one goal of state government is to fully fund education. Washington state ranks 47th among the states in funding for education. What should we do? Oh yes, let's have another study — like the other studies.

We have been studying this problem to death for years. The last thing we need is another study. During the last Legislative session, the freewheeling Democrats, led by the governor, gave away the store to all the special interests. Henceforth, no money for the kids.

Let's look at some sobering statistics. According to a study funded by the Gates Foundation, graduation rates for African Americans were 53 percent. For Latinos, 47 percent. For Native Americans, 47 percent. If the budget cuts continue, no children of color will graduate. We then can blame the teachers, parents, global warming and, oh yeah, those rascally Republicans, etc.

I am a conservative, a less-government type. However, if we can't find enough money for the kids, then for heaven's sake, raise taxes. I will assume Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave. So be it.

There is enough money, but we need to be able to think outside the box and not continue business as usual. Fortunately, we are finally getting rid of the dreaded WASL test, which is a good first step. We should cease with the happy talk from the state superintendent about the state of education in Washington. The politicians in Olympia should band together, make the hard choices and raise taxes, specifically for schools with a sunset provision after four years.

The provision would state that the tax increases would end unless we have seen a dramatic change in our economy as well as the scores and graduation rates of our children.

I often wonder why, as a society, we all say we want what's best for the children, but in reality, it's all happy talk. It's because we are not willing to put our money where our mouth is.

On a national level, we could ask the federal government to impose the same standards for all 50 states. By the way, while we are bailing out Ford, GM and the banks, how about asking for some help for the kids?

What difference does it make if we improve the infrastructure, but the kids can't read or write, and our educational system continues to decline?

On the local level, we can forego any raises for state

employees. I realize the unions will whine and complain. So why not ask the question: What about your stated commitment to help the kids?

We will never have enough money to do everything because money, in and of itself, has never solved any problems. It can't solve the problem of poverty, homelessness or even bad breath.

However, what the money can do — coupled with a commitment to help these children through more involvement from the parents and community — is allow these same kids to have a chance.

Having all teachers believe in kids, having parents read to these children, having more volunteers from the community - these will make a difference that truly matters. These small acts of kindness, coupled with compassion, will make the dollars go farther. Besides, if money were the answer, rich people wouldn't commit suicide.

What we must do is honor the pledge to these children that we will be there for them, no matter what. That we will look them in the eyes and reassure them of our love and commitment, and that things will be OK.

If we do not do this for our children, then who should we do it for? And if now is not the time, when is?