School bus - eric e johnson - flickr

First-grade teacher Linda Erickson is a devout believer in the power of summer school.

After 14 years in the classroom, she knows that for struggling students, the extra lessons help them keep hold of newly gained reading skills. Summer school provides them with breakfast and lunch—possibly their only solid meals of the day. And the routine of school can anchor young lives unhinged by parents absent because of work demands, or drugs and alcohol.

But that lifeline to academic success was severed for elementary students in the Edmonds School District. This past summer, the district eliminated summer school for its youngest students due to budget cuts.

“All the kids who really needed help in the summer didn’t get it,” said Erickson, who teaches at Chase Lake Elementary. “So when they came back in, they lost everything they’d gained.”

And the losses could keep coming.

You may have heard about Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1033 (pdf link)—a proposal to lock in government spending at current recessionary levels in perpetuity. In brief, I-1033 would prohibit all city, county and state governments from spending more in any future year (adjusted for inflation and population growth) than they did this year.

But, of course, this year was a disaster for city, county, and state budgets. The recession has forced deep cuts in services from schools to transportation to the environment, preventing agencies from meeting the public’s basic needs. And I-1033 would make these sorts of cuts permanent. The state Office of Financial Management forecasts (pdf link) that the initiative would slash state general fund revenues—money used for education; social, health, and environmental services; and general government activities—by approximately $5.9 billion by 2015. City budgets would drop by an estimated $2.1 billion over six years.

To get a sense of the hardships that I-1033 would inflict, voters only need to look at the losses that we’re already seeing. Washington’s children are being particularly hard hit with cuts to education, public parks, and programs that vaccinate them against serious illness.

News reports from around the state tell of wide-ranging, significant cuts to school budgets. Class sizes are growing. Out-of-pocket fees for sports teams and all-day kindergarten are on the rise while parents have less income to spend. Staff cuts means students are losing librarians, counselors, and teachers’ aids.

The Edmonds School District is facing a more than $10 million shortfall this year. In addition to the disappearance of elementary-level summer school, they cut bus service for elementary students who live within one mile of school—even if the route includes busy streets and roads without sidewalks. Five of their schools and a resource center lost full-time librarians, leaving the doors to the library locked during most school hours, limiting access to books and a quiet place to study, and cutting out another resource for students needing reading help, said Andi Nofziger, president of the Edmonds Education Association, the teachers’ union. Plans to ax the district’s music program for 5th graders was saved at the last minute, she said, through cuts to teacher and staff wages. But other cuts remained.

“Class sizes are much bigger this year than they were last year,” Nofziger said, particularly at the high schools. Rooms meant to hold 28 to 31 students are in some cases being jammed with 38 or 39 kids. For teachers, this “is probably one of their top issues this year. More kids in the class means less time with individual students. The rooms are overcrowded. You have discipline issues.”

The cuts put Washington students at risk of falling behind academically—making the economy less resilient and less competitive over the long haul. Take Edmonds’ summer school program, which targets kids slipping behind grade level.

“It’s just really hard to get kids where you want them to go, when you don’t have anything for them in the summer,” Erickson said.

Washington’s kids are suffering from budget shortfalls outside the classroom as well. As concerns about childhood obesity and the lack of time spent outside increase, access to outdoor spaces for playing and exploring is disappearing. King County Executive Kurt Triplett in August announced that due to budget constraints his government could no longer afford to maintain public parks, and that 39 of them would be mothballed.

The parks are spread across the county, including Edith Moulton Park in Kirkland, a 27-acre site with a forest, a meadow, and an orchard that harkens to its agricultural past. Salmon Creek Park near Burien, a location that’s been the focus of school and community restoration efforts, is also on the list. So is South County Ball Fields near Auburn, a park with five baseball fields, picnic areas, and a playground.

At each of these parks, maintenance will cease, bathrooms will be closed, play areas fenced off, and roads and parking lots locked. The county is accepting proposals from neighboring cities or others willing to take ownership and safely operate the parks for public use. Some may be annexed by growing cities. Mothballing the sites would save King County $4.6 million over the next two years.

Kids’ health is taking another hit through state Department of Health cuts. This summer, the agency announced that it was stopping support for childhood vaccines including measles, mumps, chicken pox, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

The state will continue providing the shots for kids who are low income or lack insurance. Children with insurance coverage will have to get their providers to foot the bill. But it’s not necessarily that simple—particularly for the HPV vaccination. The shot—which can prevent genital warts and cervical cancer—can cost more than $120, and three shots are required.

If a child’s insurance has a high deductible or high co-pay, their family is on its own to cover the cost, according to the health agency. Or the insurance company might cover only part of the cost of the HPV vaccination, again, leaving the family to its own financial devices. There are some non-profits that can help, and families unable to cover the costs can contact the Department of Social and Health Services, but this creates extra hurdles to getti
ng the shot.

The cuts to the vaccine program will save the state about $50 million (pdf link) over two years.

When the effort had state support, Washington made great strides in getting its young girls inoculated against HPV, significantly beating the national vaccination rates.

But with health, parks, and education budgets being slashed—and the threat of those cuts being made permanent through I-1033—what kind of shape with the state’s children be in tomorrow?

COMING UP: Library closures and postponed cleanups of polluted sites are already are taking place in Washington—and the situation could get worse. Stay tuned for more on I-1033 impacts coming Friday to Sightline Daily.


Bus photo courtesy of Flickr user Eric E Johnson under a Creative Commons license.