The City of Seattle’s newly created Department of Education and Early Learning will spend $235 million over the next seven years on various education initiatives. This money gives the city a lot of leverage to pursue its vision of what it wants public education to look like in Seattle.

The purpose of the people’s budget is to create a participatory budgeting process where citizens decide what programs and initiatives should be funded with their tax dollars.

Many parents feel they aren’t being heard when it comes to education policy. Creating a people’s budget at the city and district levels would give parents, teachers, and principals an opportunity to have more of a say on where our education dollars are spent.  Below is prepared testimony from the People’s Budget Town Hall which took place October 27th, 2015.

-Carolyn Leith

Most of us who have dedicated our work lives to public education do not think it’s ok that the Gates billionaire and millionaire cabal should be able to toss tax-deductible big money around to ruin and disrupt public education.

Every bit of progress we’ve made in pushing for progressive public education; for anti-racism, multicultural and alternative education models are being pushed back harder and harder. The most frequently heard lament from the school administrators is lack of funding. There is a lack of funding, of course. It is part of the plan. There is also a lay-down on the tracks mentality among these administrators who welcome this private money train.

We know now none of this corporate ed reform works. We’ve had too many years learning how much it does not work and how it hurts. We see it in the schools and in the whole fabric of society.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a deep, systemic problem. The part that public education should play is to go against this corporate drive to put public schools under its demands. Public schools must, if they are to be progressive agents in society face this shameful problem. It must allow teaching and learning that really works for students, that is transformative – especially for those students who are underserved and struggle to just get along in life.

The recent Seattle district closing of Middle College @ High Point and the disruption to the Ida B. Wells School for Social Justice @ UW shows us how ready the district is to throw out social justice education to comply with private money demands and to use as an excuse, the funding crisis. At neither of these high schools for juniors and seniors, were students ever suspended; students finally wanted to go to school. The students from these Middle College alternative public high schools graduated at much higher rates than any traditional school and went on to post-high school education at higher rates. They took on a college prep curriculum and succeeded. They were not made victims of the school-to-prison pipeline.

We like to imagine how would social justice education and the human right to social development be served if those tax-deductible millions were instead taxed to fund democratic public education and address the social needs of the children of Seattle?

It’s not a tough math question. It’s an ethical responsibility. I hope the City does create a People’s Budget and then we can push the Seattle School Board of Directors to do the same. We really have no choice but to take control of the social capital that is ours.

Mary Ellen Cardella, Designed original Wells School education project, Humanities Teacher, Site Coordinator (1997-2010)