Editorials

Voters should look out for children’s best interests. What grade did they earn Tuesday? We’d say a solid “C”

A fifth grader at Tacoma’s Fawcett Elementary School reads information on a computer screen while taking part in an online mock election for actual Washington state political races. Children can’t vote for real, so how are we doing on their behalf?
A fifth grader at Tacoma’s Fawcett Elementary School reads information on a computer screen while taking part in an online mock election for actual Washington state political races. Children can’t vote for real, so how are we doing on their behalf? News Tribune file photo

Have you started thinking about what to get your kids for Christmas yet? South Sound parents had a great opportunity this week for an early round of gift-giving — accessible to all adults regardless of income, guaranteed to bless children long past any manufacturer’s warranty.

Exercising our voting franchise responsibly is one of the most precious gifts we can give the youth of Washington, who aren’t old enough to vote (except by casting pretend ballots during mock elections at school) but are acutely aware of what’s at stake.

How’d we do this year in representing their best interests? Let’s just say Tuesday’s election results were a mixed bag, with some unmerited lumps of coal distributed to kids in rural and suburban Pierce County.

On the bright side, Washington voters took an unequivocal stand for child safety by supporting Initiative 1639 with a more than 60-percent yes vote. I-1639 will raise the purchase age on assault-style weapons from 18 to 21, enact tougher background screenings and establish safe-storage precautions.

Sensible gun reform that allows young people to feel more secure at school and in their communities was on many wish lists this year. The Valentine’s Day massacre that killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida unleashed a wave of youth activism from Puyallup to Tacoma to Gig Harbor. Threats of violence like the ones at Lincoln and Franklin Pierce high schools on Thursday magnify the sense of vulnerability.

I-1639 will also provide a check against the self-destructive impulses prevalent in our youth. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Washingtonians age 10 to 24, and firearms are the chief means of suicide.

Tacoma voters mustered an even larger winning margin for local Proposition 1. The citywide sales-tax hike, which will expand arts, science and other enrichment activities for marginalized youth, was above 64 percent Thursday.

“Tacoma Creates” is a generous gift with a lifetime of benefits; studies show children exposed to the arts at early ages are more proficient in reading, writing and math; better disciplined in class; and more engaged with their feelings and connected to their communities.

Unfortunately, voters outside Tacoma didn’t have as much enthusiasm for a Pierce County Library System tax levy. As of Thursday’s ballot count, it was close but still falling short with a little more than 49 percent of the vote.

The library system meets the needs of thousands of families at locations in 20 towns and small cities, offering services from homework help to teen reading clubs, from toddler story times to baby books to go. Users take it for granted, as the tax rate hasn’t gone up for a dozen years. Now library officials might have to slash the materials and book budget, lay off staff and close up to three branches.

If it fails, talking to kids about it could be difficult, even embarrassing. But some parents will have to try to explain an even more shameful election outcome:

A Bethel School District bond proposal to relieve overcrowding and provide suitable learning spaces will likely fail for the fourth time in less than three years. As of Thursday, it stood more than 4 percentage points below the daunting 60-percent supermajority requirement.

Before the election, we received several desperate letters to the editor from Bethel students, including this plea by Ryan Emmett. “The futures of the students in the Bethel School District depend on getting a good education, and in this environment, the odds are against us,” Ryan wrote, noting broken ceiling panels and heating systems. “There is next to no excuse to not vote for our schools in this upcoming election.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

For many youth in Pierce County, Christmas came early this year. But for too many others, the Grinch did.

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