Time for a sports levy to support education
Education for too long has received short shrift by Washington policymakers and lawmakers, writes guest columnist Christine Johnson-Duell. She proposes that the Mariners, which benefited from taxpayer dollars, pay a little back by helping fund education.
Special to The Times
WHEN I moved to Seattle in August 1991, the biggest news stories were: 1) the Mariners might leave Seattle and 2) Seattle teachers might go on strike. That's usually the order in which they appeared on the news: Mariners first, teachers second.
In both, money was at issue. As I recall, the Mariners wanted public money because the Kingdome was in disrepair. The teachers, I think, wanted to safeguard health insurance and cost-of-living increases.
Of course, the Mariners stayed. The Legislature contributed public funds to build Safeco Field. Never mind that voters turned down public support of the stadium (twice). And, what about the teachers? In 1991, they didn't strike, but a few years ago, voters elected to allocate funds to decrease class size and increase teacher salaries.
It has been fascinating to watch these two stories play off one another. Interesting that only the Mariners' story had a happy ending.
The latest installment of the teachers' saga occurred last week, when the Legislature suspended voter mandates to reduce class size and increase teacher pay. The economic downturn we're living through is distressing, but Olympia's sometime habit of sidestepping voter mandates truly alarms me.
To avoid ignoring a basic tenet of democracy — again — and suspending voter-mandated education funding, I propose that when lawmakers return to Olympia, they require the Mariners to pay 1 percent of their revenues to the general fund, for education.
Yes, in addition to the business and occupation tax the team pays. A sports levy — let's call it "1 percent for education" — would not solve the education budget woes, but it would contribute to reducing class size and providing teachers with a living wage. It might also serve to smooth out the bumpy legislative history between our stadiums and our kids. What an amazing civics lesson that would be.
I came here from Boston. I don't simply love baseball; baseball is in my DNA. As a kid, I attended so many games in Fenway Park with my grandfather that the peanut man outside the gate knew our names. I love the green monster, the narrow seats, and I am grateful for the memories that the park holds for me.
I am also grateful for the excellent public-school education I received as a child in Massachusetts, which hovers around the top 5 percent in the nation when it comes to state expenditures per student. Washington state, in contrast, is at the bottom of that scale, despite being home to Boeing, Amazon and Microsoft.
It might be frivolous to make the argument I suggest here, but there is nothing frivolous about the root of this issue, which began long before the current economic crisis. The Washington Legislature should have established and protected basic-education funding a very long time ago, in the economic boom of the mid-90s, for example. Instead, they funded a sports stadium that voters didn't want.
One of the arguments in favor of Safeco was that sports stadiums are "revenue generators." It's time to spread the revenue around, to benefit the children who will generate a little revenue in the future.
In fact, maybe the Mariners ought to offer to set up this 1 percent for education fund. Aside from being a public-relations boon, it is the right thing to do. Right now is an excellent moment to, uh, step up to the plate.
In their book, "The Students are Watching," Nancy Faust Sizer and Theodore Sizer write that kids pay attention to what the adults in their lives do. They watch us — both in and out of the classroom — to learn what we value.
In August 1991, Seattle schoolchildren learned a values lesson from the top news stories. What was the lesson? Which story, which "players" did we show them we value?
We can insist we value education, but if you ask the students, they might say something different. They are watching.
The current economic crisis is a grown-up creation and it's a grown-up problem to solve — but the kids are watching us. What lesson will we teach them?Christine Johnson-Duell is a poet, a Hedgebrook alumna and writes regularly for Parent Map. She lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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