A soggy afternoon may have dampened turnout for a students’ march to the Capitol Campus on Sunday, but it in no way dampened their passion for K-12 education and the need for the state to fully fund it.
Sunday’s gathering, organized by Olympia High School senior Gracie Anderson, who is a member of the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, was expected to attract more than 100 people. Instead, about half that number showed because of a steady rain that hung over Olympia.
Still, the group made its way from Marathon Park along Capitol Lake to the Legislative Building on the Capitol Campus to hear speakers urge lawmakers to fully fund education.
State education has been the focus of a number of rallies, following the Supreme Court of Washington ruling known as the McCleary case. The court said the state must take on the full cost of paying school employee salaries and not rely on local school district property tax levies.
Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a $46 billion budget, which would help pay for education by raising about $4.4 billion through new taxes on carbon emissions, capital gains and increased taxes on service businesses. The GOP has countered with a $43 billion budget proposal, which would impose a new statewide property tax to pay for education and eliminate local school district property tax levies.
Meanwhile, the students huddled under their umbrellas and let their voices be heard.
Anderson surveyed the audience and said that future doctors, lawyers, firefighters and teachers were among the crowd, possibly even the next president.
“Each student here and across the state deserves an education that enables your success,” she said. “That’s why we’re here — to fight for the right to education.”
Paul Alig, a staff attorney with a nonprofit called Team Child that works with at-risk and low-income youths, said the state’s education system is in “dire need of an upgrade,” particularly when it comes to the voice of the struggling student.
Alig recalled the predicament of a young woman who became depressed after a death in her family. In her depressed state, she began to cut herself with something the school determined was a weapon. Because of zero-tolerance policies, she was expelled from school and now can’t find a school that fits.
“Her education has been derailed,” he said.
Olympia High School student Rachel Hodes said the inequities in education are persistent and harmful.
“It’s an inarguable fact that schools are not supporting students equally,” she said. “It’s time for the legislature to step up to the plate and give our administrators, teachers and staff the financial support they need to ensure student welfare under their care.”
“We shouldn’t have to be advocates for education, but here we are,” Hodes said.
Skyline High School student Jackie O’Hara said spending per student in Washington state was well below the national average.
“I refuse to stand by as amazing kids are neglected by our government,” she said.