As a parent, and as a legislator, a question I ask myself every day is, "How can we give our kids and grandkids a better education - and a better life - than we had?"
It's a big question, and the answer will determine not just the futures of our families for generations to come, but the fortunes of Washington state.
That question is what drove me to get involved in education at the local level when our sons were in public school. It later led me to serve on the Anacortes School Board, and ultimately gave me the impetus to run for a seat in the Legislature. The success of our businesses, small and large, depends upon the quality of our public schools and universities. It depends on making sure our children and young adults have the best education in the world, so they can compete for the best jobs in the world, including great jobs here in Washington state.
Considering this, I'm heartened to see so many of my fellow lawmakers voicing their commitment to our kids. Unfortunately, I'm also hearing another refrain: "Sure, education is our top priority, but . . . ."
There are no "buts" about it. It simply shouldn't have to be this hard to do what almost everyone in the state agrees we ought to be doing. So let's talk about improving our education system.
Fully funding our schools vs. reform: This is a theme we often hear, as if this were an either/or situation. I only wish it were; I'd vote for "reform" and feel satisfied that my work was done. I could assure taxpayers that there really was such a thing as a free lunch and that simply changing "the system" would allow our students to thrive, increase our graduation rates, open doors to the best colleges and universities, and cause our economy to soar.
I think most people, and certainly most parents, know better. They know that reform is an ongoing process, and that of course we haven't reached perfection. But they also know that schools, like the rest of the services funded by taxpayers through their state and local governments, have suffered mightily year after year since the onset of the Great Recession. And they know that now, when our economy is finally on the rebound, is no time to play politics with education funding - particularly in light of the Supreme Court's directive that the Legislature beef up that funding to the tune of a billion or more dollars this biennium.
Now, some in the "all we need is reform" crowd would like you to think that they are defending you from others who say all our problems could be solved with more money, that no reforms are necessary.
I've never met those people, and I doubt that they exist. Clearly, we must continue to innovate, try new things and experiment with promising teaching methods and models. That's how progress is made - by adopting what works and discarding what doesn't, wherever the idea comes from.
At the same time, we must continue to be rigorous about justifying every dollar that's spent on education. Economies and efficiencies are reforms themselves. But we get what we pay for, and if what we want is a world-class education system, legislators must find the will and the courage to combine meaningful reforms with adequate funding. One or the other is not going to do it.
What do you think? I'm interested in hearing your ideas about education, whether you're a parent or grandparent, in high school or college - or a business owner struggling to find enough graduates with the right 21st-century skills.
I'd like to hear from you, and work with you, because in the end, education is the engine of our economy, and we all have a stake in making sure our kids and grandkids have a shot - just like we did - at living the American dream.
Rep. Kristine Lytton, a Democrat, represents Washington's 40th legislative district, which includes San Juan County and significant parts of Skagit and Whatcom counties, including Anacortes, Mount Vernon, and much of Bellingham.