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It takes guts to cast a ballot

Published on: October 01, 2004

When it comes to very important decisions, such as voting for
political candidates or ballot initiatives, I'm a firm believer in
"going with your gut."

Using your stomach as a guide doesn't
mean you stop using your brain, either. It just means that once you've
done your homework, analyzed the facts and are ready to make a decision
-- take the gut test.

Let's apply this to the critical choices that those of us who are
registered voters will be making in the next month. Does the candidate
or initiative you have decided to vote for really fall in line with
your values?

Like many of you, I watched the presidential nominating conventions of
both political parties. I tried to set aside my political biases (hard
to do!) and let my gut do the work. Which speakers gave me optimism for
the future of my kids and the world we will leave behind for them? Did
their words and tone make my stomach feel nervous and fearful, or calm
and positive?

To be perfectly honest, George W. Bush gave me a stomachache.

There are those of you who may have the same reaction to John Kerry,
and that's the beauty of our democratic system. But please give me a
moment to back up my gut reaction with a few thoughts.

I am very fortunate. My husband and I have a decent income that allows
us to comfortably afford food, shelter, clothing and transportation --
plus extras like sports lessons and family vacations -- for ourselves
and our children. However, there are so many families who struggle each
day to make ends meet. Many parents have lost their jobs. Many more
cannot afford health insurance. The economy has dealt them a cruel
blow.

I'm certain that's why my gut is telling me to vote for John Kerry.
Listening to his speech -- and those of others like U.S. Senate hopeful
Barack Obama -- during the Democratic convention, I felt a sense of
optimism and hope for our present and our future as Americans. Kerry's
commitments to economic renewal, affordable health care and education
reform are basic family values that will help all parents do a better
job of providing for their children

At the state level, Initiative 884 has particular significance to
families, as it supports the education of children from preschool
through college.

When researching the pros and cons of I-884, I was impressed with the
broad impact of this measure. Not only will it create 10,000 new
preschool spaces, reduce K-12 class sizes and raise the base pay for
teachers, it also will expand college financial aid and fund 32,000
additional enrollment slots in college.

If approved by voters, I-884 would provide:

  • resources to help all students graduate from high school, including
    those who are most at risk. Currently, of every 10 kids who start
    kindergarten, only seven will graduate.
  • more money for teachers, including restoring the pay increase that
    voters approved through Initiative 732, which was suspended by the
    state Legislature during its most recent session.
  • preschool education for those who need it most -- 16,000 low-income
    children. Currently thousands of children are on waiting lists for
    high-quality preschools, and as a result often start school unprepared.
  • class size reduction, tutoring programs, advanced classes, college counseling and parent involvement.

Opponents of I-884 have several concerns about the measure, including:

  • the fact it would be funded through a 1 percent increase in the state
    sales tax, moving it from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent, which will
    unfairly impact lower-income families.
  • the belief that education funding decisions should be left to the state
    Legislature and not be mandated through a citizen's initiative.
  • the concern that there is no spending accountability for the
    substantial funds I-884 would raise (estimated at slightly more than $1
    billion in fiscal year 2005-06 and $1.2 billion by 2008-09)

So what does my gut tell me about these arguments? I am certain that
the future of our state and our national depends on the education of
our children -- there is no more important task. Much of this learning
happens before youngsters even enter school, which is why ParentMap has
committed to a multi-year community focus on Getting School Ready,
including a monthly column of the same name. The goal: to ensure that
preschool children are prepared to succeed.

Raising the sales tax is not an ideal solution, but there are few
viable options in a state with no income tax. As the I-884 Web site,
www.edtrustfund.org, states: "Washington voters have consistently said
they think it is the fairest way to fund education because everyone
pays sales tax and everyone benefits from improved education."

As for accountability, the initiative provides for an independent
citizen oversight board that will monitor the uses and success of the
funds and report back to the public. In addition, performance audits
will be conducted to ensure that the money is being used effectively
and efficiently.

Yes, it would be nice if this issue could be solved legislatively. But
I have followed the ongoing education funding battles in the state
Legislature, and I have no confidence that lawmakers can adequately
address the problem. Washington state's public school classrooms are
more crowded than any state except Oregon and Arizona. Federal (No
Child Left Behind) and state (Washington Assessment of Student
Learning) requirements are in place, and the consequences are severe
for the children unable to meet these tougher new standards.

We are running out of time and must do something now.

I hope that our readers do a "gut check" on all the important issues
and candidates when they visit their polling place in November or fill
out their absentee ballots in the next few weeks. The future of our
state, our nation and our children depend on it.™

Teresa Wippel is the managing editor of ParentMap.

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