When Lauro Cavazos was U.S. secretary of education, he explained in a 1988 speech to the Education Press Association: "This nation suffers from three deficits: a trade deficit, a budget deficit, and an education deficit. I submit that the trade and budget deficits will not be resolved until we overcome the education deficit."The message has been clear from time immemorial: Improving education means improving economies at the national, state and local levels. Or, more succinctly: Knowledge = dollars.
Here in Clark County, the message has been clear for many decades: Taxpayers usually are willing to pay, not only to maintain schools but to make them better. More evidence arrived this week when voters in four school districts (Vancouver, Camas, Ridgefield and La Center) approved replacement levies for maintenance and operation (M&O). Additionally, voters in Vancouver and Camas passed technology levies, affirming the forward-thinking belief that modern students need to learn 21st-century skills using modern equipment.
Congratulations to those who stepped forward, not just with vocal support (after all, everyone wants good schools) but with financial commitments.
On the lone downside, why voters in Battle Ground apparently chose to reject their replacement M&O levy escapes us, but we respect their decision. And we acknowledge their right, not just to cut about 20 percent of the district’s operating revenue but also snuff out more than $6 million in matching funds from the state. Keeping up with other districts will be difficult within those financial parameters. Battle Ground school officials say they will go back to the voters in April with another request if the week’s effort fails, which appears likely.
Elsewhere, however, the voice of voters was more positive, especially in the Vancouver school district, which boasts a half-century of success in replacement levies and this week led all districts with a whopping 65.8 percent approval rate (as of Wednesday night) of their three-year M&O levy. Also, the Vancouver district's first technology levy passed with 62.4 percent approval.
Camas voters left no doubt in passing an M&O levy (62.2 percent) and a technology levy (64.2 percent).
Kudos to Ridgefield voters for recording the county's highest voter turnout (more than 41.3 percent) and passing the M&O levy with 58.8 percent approval.
In La Center, the M&O levy passed, but a capital funds levy for improving sports fields was narrowly failing as of Wednesday night. La Center school officials did voters a favor; this was the only district to keep replacement levy rates the same. In other districts, increases in M&O levy rates will produce annual increases (for owners of $200,000 homes) ranging from $8 in Ridgefield to $28 in Vancouver.
Until the Legislature fulfills the court mandate to fully fund K-12 education, school districts will be forced to continue putting these levies — short-term patches, essentially — before voters. For now, though, we're glad to see voters in most local districts showing a willingness to prioritize public education.
Our state is making progress toward the goal Cavazos described a quarter of a century ago. One of the presidents under which he served — George H.W. Bush — made a similar comment: "Education is the first step on the ladder to economic empowerment." Thus, more linkage between schools and economies. Voters in the Vancouver, Camas, Ridgefield and La Center districts seem to agree.