D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), state Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and then-schools chancellor Antwan Wilson present the findings of an independent auditor's examination on D.C. schools attendance and graduation rates in January. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Columnist

The building blocks of a prosperous and healthy society are pretty simple: education, education and education.

And on this front, our society is in peril.

From the ragged, outdated textbooks that striking teachers in Oklahoma have been posting online — some list George W. Bush as the current president — to our persistently high dropout rate, one kid every 26 seconds, it’s clear that education is low on the list of priorities in America.

And one of the best places to see this apathy is in the mayor’s race in the nation’s capital.

In each election, voters in the District make it clear what they won’t tolerate.

In 2014, it was the whiff of a campaign finance scandal that was enough to oust incumbent Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) (now Ward 7 D.C. Council member). Voters said no to potential payoffs, which never were tied to Gray in a federal investigation, it turned out.

Four years earlier, it was attitude that voters wouldn’t tolerate when they got rid of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). There were growing tensions as the population began to change and prosper in some pockets of the city, illuminating a widening wealth gap.

Ultimately voters on the street said this change was embodied in the young, dynamic mayor who felt too cool to too many.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is now running for a second term and she is largely — except for a few, fringe candidates — unopposed.

Sure, she’s likable. But she seems to be sailing into a second term under the cloud of a reprehensible, epic scandal.

It’s so bad that three agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Education Department and the D.C. Office of the Inspector General — are now investigating the D.C. Public School system.

This is after the revelation earlier this year that more than 900 students — a third of the capital’s entire graduating class — were not eligible for the diplomas they were given.

Add to that the bombshell last week that the school system is full of residency fraud — a good chunk of the kids who come to D.C. schools don’t even live in the city. This is happening at the highest levels, investigations showed. The executive assistant to former schools chancellor Kaya Henderson, Angela Williams-Skelton, hauled her grandkids from their Frederick, Md., home to a D.C. public school every day, right under the chancellor’s nose.

And then we have the resignation of one of Bowser’s most influential and prestigious appointments, the schools chancellor picked to follow Henderson, Antwan Wilson. He resigned because of the way his daughter got to leapfrog hundreds of D.C. students on a waitlist to get into the school she wanted.

It’s a trifecta of a mess.

In one, short year, a school system on the path to reform, being watched by an entire nation looking for the success recipe, became mired in multiple scandals.

And they’re not insignificant. Sending hundreds of young adults into the workforce with meaningless diplomas is a far-reaching social disaster that will reverberate in this town for years to come.

This train wreck should be a political death sentence for any big-city mayor.

But it’s schools. Education. So the voters seem to be feeling “meh” about the mess.

I was at a conference about health care this week. And in the middle of a debate about single-payer and free-market systems, someone who’s been in this game for 30 years spoke up.

Maria Gomez, the founder of Mary’s Center, a successful network of health-care and social services providers in the D.C. area, was asked for her thoughts on what leads to a successful health-care system — the old “best practices” question.

And her answer surprised me. It wasn’t about more doctors, better insurance plans or anything that sounds health-care related.

“Education,” Gomez told the audience. “Stay focused on education.”

Even though many of those in the crowd may not have kids in schools, she said, Gomez asked them to “please, please, please continue that fight” for a good school system, for education as a social priority.

Without education, health care, housing and employment all fall down.

Maybe that’s why so many parents went out of their regional boundaries to enroll their kids in schools. Yes, they were wrong, but what good will it do to prosecute those families?

Those parents’ crimes are trying to get the best for their kids. And why are they coming to the District? Because their states aren’t giving them what they need. Putting education first is something we fail to do everywhere.

When Bowser ran for office four years ago, she said she wanted to be the “education mayor.”

Her public school platform was summed up with the motto “Alice Deal for All,” meaning she wanted every child in the city to attend a middle school like the beloved and coveted Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest.

We’re so far from that. All we have is “A Diploma for All.” And not in a good way.

No matter who the candidates are, the health of the District’s schools has got to take center stage in this election. The District has to continue the fight for good schools, and our society needs to find the voice and the heart to care about education, education and education.

Twitter: @petulad