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Education of Washington's students should come before corporate welfare

Guest Opinion: Wednesday's hearing before the state Supreme Court could be an opportunity to get our state's act together on education.
How bright is the educational future of children in Seattle?

How bright is the educational future of children in Seattle? Kent Wang/Flickr

On Wednesday, the Washington State Supreme Court will face off with the Legislature over fully funding public education under the 2012 McCleary decision. As the state grapples with the issue of education funding, residents are left wondering how such a prosperous state -- home to a number of the world’s most iconic and profitable companies and individuals — fails to fully fund even basic education for Washington’s children.

Ultimately, the answer lies in our broken and inefficient state tax system. Our state tax system is the most regressive in the nation, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, and yet billions of dollars of taxpayer money underwrite tax breaks and subsidies each year to wealthy corporations that do not need them. This is starving our education system of even the most basic funding.

The only way to properly fund education at all levels, from early learning to college, is to repair our tax system and create new revenue streams for education.

The effects of our existing tax system and the resulting chronic underinvestment in our education budget are quite clear. Year upon year, studies indicate our state ranks poorly in preparing our citizens for college. A quarter of adults from the ages of 18-24 lack a high school diploma. Low-income families face inadequate access to affordable, quality early learning, effectively barring parents from the workforce and perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

And even when low-income families are able to overcome these barriers and their children make it to college, we fail in our commitment to fully fund the State Need Grant Program to support them through college. And, at the same time as the percentage of high-school graduates who go to college has increased in the U.S. over the past two decades, the percentage in Washington has actually fallen in recent years. This situation is unacceptable.

Our tax system rewards corporations that threaten to desert our state by showering them with billions in taxpayer dollars for tax rebates and reductions. When Boeing threatened to move some operations out of Washington last year, the Legislature granted an extension of subsidies that ratchets their total to nearly $12 billion, setting a new national record for tax giveaways.

Taxpayers spend about $2.3 billion a year — 15 cents of every dollar in the state budget — on “corporate incentive” programs. Put another way, that’s $1,350 for every child and college student in Washington diverted away from their education each year.

The clear and moral choice for funding education is clear. With the McCleary decision, the Supreme Court has mandated basic education must be funded. We now have an important choice to make in response. We could fund the constitutional requirement to provide adequate funding for K-12 by diverting funding from transportation, health, social services and higher education, and impact the communities who rely on these services.

Alternatively, we could view McCleary as an opportunity to work together toward the best solution: Repair our tax system, end corporate welfare and create new revenue streams to fully fund our entire public education system from birth to graduation. It is time for us to stand up for education in Washington state.

Robert Wood is a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, president of the UW chapter of the American Association of University Professors and a member of the Stand Up 4 Education coalition, which recently released the report “Protecting Washington’s Future: Revenue solutions for fully funding education from birth to graduation.”


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 6:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Get real. The majority of people who have great wealth and use it to influence politics aren't interested in educating the poor, which to them, includes the middle class. Their children go to private schools, and they see know reason to divert their wealth to children who, in their minds, only need to learn four words, "Want fried with t
hat?" No programs which benefit the vast majority of us, health care, education, housing, and decent law enforcement, are going to happen until we figure out how to deal with the psychopaths who are pulling the strings in our dem/rep Punch and Judy show.

Silenus

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps because more $ for education does not correlate to better results - Newark schools and DC schools come to mind. Show me a good, direct correlation between $ spent and pupil achievement for similar demographics. You won't find it.

Seasoned

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9 p.m. Inappropriate

The voters repealed Gregoire's Soda and Candy Tax. They handily voted down an Income Tax on those with incomes over $200,000, even though almost none of those voting against the tax would have paid it.

Mr. Wood, as Walter Kelly had Pogo famously say, "We have me the enemy and he is us."

You have cause and effect reversed here. Voters are the tail wagging legislative prerogatives, not the other way around. As FDR famously quipped to his advisors, there is nothing worse that leading on an issue and turning around and having nobody behind you. Elected officials, whatever else we criticize them for, do one thing VERY well. They read their constituents collective minds and mood. They don't dictate it or shape it.

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9:26 p.m. Inappropriate

They voted down an income tax because they knew that the "progressives" who proposed it have a track record of lying about everything else. Only in Seattle, the most gullible city in the West, was the income tax approved. Everywhere else, you and your kind lost, because no one trusts you.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Sorry, "progressives," we're not giving you the income tax you wanted. If you don't like it, move back to California where you and your kind always belonged.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

I and all my co-workers are from California. We wielded our mighty state educational advantage and took "yer jobs". That's how it works baby…."air kiss"

word

Posted Sun, Sep 7, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

So you know, you're genuinely despised here. Please go home where you belong. And take your bicycles with you.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

"Taxpayers spend about $2.3 billion a year — 15 cents of every dollar in the state budget"

Actually that number is a tad larger...the Dept of Revenue lists over 600 "tax preferences" costing taxpayers nearly $100 Billion (yes, with a B) each biennia.

For the legislature and the SC to be squabbling over adequate funding for K-12 and Higher Educ in light of this excess is laughable...if it wasn't so serious.

Just suspending, not eliminating, just suspending 4% of these giveaways each biennia would eliminate this funding shortfall. I doubt seriously that Boeing is going to pack up over a 4% reduction in their tax breaks....

Sorry kids, but gotta keep those corps happy...their people too after all...

good grief!

Rich1

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