Democrats in the Evergreen State are at an important crossroads. We have been steadily losing seats in the House and not gaining them in the Senate.
We can all guess why our people, Democrats, didn’t turn out to vote in the last election, but one of my theories is that we are mishandling education—a top-tier issue for voters. Instead of talking about replicating what works best for students, we are clinging to systems and practices that work for adults, and are mostly not meeting the needs of our most vulnerable populations.
So now we have the ironic situation that most of the politicians in our state out front advocating for quality education for our most vulnerable students are…well…Republicans.
For the record, I have spent the last 20 years fighting for more school funding for Washington’s public schools. I am as big “D” Democratic as they come. When friends worried about their kids doing drugs, I worried about mine becoming Republican.
Everyone who knows me knows that education is my issue. But I have some very personal reasons for caring deeply about the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ rights, climate change, mental health services and immigration reform.
I am increasingly worried that Democratic missteps on education will cost us the majorities we need to carry all those issues to better places.
The reactions of some of our party leaders and standard bearers —specifically Governor Inslee—to the charter school court decision set off a new round of frustration for me. How are we going to win the special election in the 30th legislative district (where 55 percent of voters said yes to public charter schools), much less pick up legislative seats, when we are out of touch with what voters want?
Try this : Ask the next person you see if it makes sense to them that some public school students might have their school closed mid-year because over a hundred years ago a court defined “common schools” in a particular way?
A friendly reminder. Families with means have school choice baked into their world. They buy houses in cities and towns with good public schools. Then they move to a better part of town with better schools. And they try to get their children into gifted programs. Their kids have tutors and coaches and enrichment activities after school. Or maybe they send their children to private or parochial schools.
Low-income families do not typically have these choices. More than two-thirds of the students in Washington state’s public charter schools are from low-income families and nearly 70 percent are students of color. If the court closes down charter schools, it will disproportionately affect families who need and deserve more from our public schools.
Right now no one should be turning a cold shoulder to the nearly 1,300 amazing, pioneering, diverse charter school students and their families. For Democrats to be leading that charge is insane. Instead, we should look for every way possible to support parents whose primal instinct is to find a good school that meets the needs of their child.
Change is always hard, and it is almost always uncomfortable. As Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy,” has said:
You cannot advance justice without doing the uncomfortable. You cannot advance justice until you get close enough to feel some of what you’re trying to correct… If you get close to inequality, you’ll get cut. If you get close to injustice, you’ll get bruised. If you get close to things that are painful, and difficult, and unequal, it will hurt you. It will make you uncomfortable. But, in discomfort, I want to tell you there is a power.
This is the time for Democrats in Washington state to stand tall and show that we care about equity and opportunity. This is the time for our party leaders to find the courage to say to their Washington Education Association funders, “you are wrong on this one.” This is the time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is the time for our Democrats to follow the lead of their only African-American state legislator, Eric Pettigrew, President Obama and thousands of other elected Democrats around the country on the issue of charter schools.
To paraphrase a great actress, the only thing standing between our students and success is opportunity.
Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.