Letters to the Editor

Washington State PTA looks forward to stable and equitable funding for schools | Letter

The Washington State Parent Teacher Association opposes placing “super majority” barriers to funding that kids rely on, and the association welcomes the state Supreme Court ruling this week that strikes down the two-thirds majority requirement for revenue increases. This ruling gives policymakers the flexibility they need to make practical and balanced choices for children.

The association has long opposed budget policies, deficit reduction efforts, and other legislative proposals that negatively impact funding for child-related programs. We support tax policies that are fair and equitable, and that provide stable, adequate revenues for public education and for programs that benefit youth.

Initiative 1053 required a two-thirds majority to raise state revenue. This included closing tax loopholes and created a situation in which by a simple majority vote the legislature could give away revenue with tax exemptions. But to restore that revenue – and use it to fund a higher priority -- they needed a two-thirds majority.

This exacerbated an already inequitable and unstable system of funding schools as state costs were increasingly pushed down to local communities to pick up. Taxes passed at the local level are neither stable nor equitable.

Last fall’s Initiative 1185 promised to do the same, and Washington State PTA opposed it for these reasons. The association also opposes SJR 8205, which seeks to embed the two-thirds requirement into the state constitution.

 

REALITIES FOR KIDS

In this February’s elections more than 50 school districts ran excess levies, raising $1.7 billion. That’s great news for those kids and families. But out near Vancouver, the Battle Ground School District’s excess levy failed. If it doesn’t pass on the second try in April the district could be dissolved, leaving over 1,000 people unemployed and 13,000 kids in limbo. This is a direct result of the legislature’s inability to resolve school funding.

 

Here is where years of budgeting under the two-thirds requirement have left Washington:

·         This state underfunds maintenance costs at schools by at least half a billion dollars annually – and has since at least 2008.

  • It funds on average three out of four teachers, and in the state's largest district fewer than that. Again, since at least 2008.
  • It still has not implemented new graduation requirements that align with college and workplace requirements. The reason? The state has not provided the money to give every high-school student a full six-period day. Local districts count on teen-agers to drop classes and take fewer credits. We struggle to accommodate students who might fail a class, or who need an intervention class.

Today in Washington, we have PTAs and community foundations raising millions in cash to prop up our schools, and volunteers donating tens of thousands of hours in free labor. This is what the two-thirds majority for revenue has brought us: Parents manning the phone banks every few years and raising the paddle at auctions to cover basic school maintenance and instructional costs, hoping desperately votes or donations come through so their school doesn’t shut down.

Out in Battle Ground, the district spends $8,819 per student, about a $1,000 less than the state average. Local funds only make up 15 percent of its budget (that percentage is 27 in Seattle), but funds are so tight and the district budget so lean, it can’t absorb the excess levy loss.

 

LOOKING FORWARD

The inability of legislators to effectively and efficiently deal with the significant underfunding of our schools is hurting our children. This fall, our association voted to support additional revenue to pay for children’s education and programs that keep them healthy and safe. We encourage legislators to end outdated tax exemptions and to prioritize the state’s legal responsibilities to K-12 students over additional tax breaks with negligible benefit to the economy.

We also encourage the legislature to seriously consider a capital gains tax, income tax or some other fundamental tax reform that stabilizes our revenue stream and eases the burden on middle and low income families.

Washington’s tax structure is much different than the national norm.

  • Washington raises less revenue, per capita, than the national average
  • Washington relies twice as much on the sales tax ($2,061 per capita, versus $992)
  • Washington is one of only seven states that does not impose a personal or corporate income tax
  • Washington’s “business tax,” the B&O, taxes gross receipts rather than profit or income

Our state’s major tax sources include:

  • Sales tax – which provides 49 percent of state revenue
  • Property tax – 12 percent of state revenue
  • Business and Occupation (B&O) tax – 22 percent of state revenue

This system is inherently unfair to small and start-up businesses and to middle and low-income earners. It has also failed to bring in the revenue necessary for the state to amply fund a general and uniform system of schools that prepare children for career, college and citizenship, while also making sure we have a safety network in place to protect our most vulnerable, and adequate funds to run essential government services.

Please see Revenue for Kids for details on Washington State PTA’s advocacy on tax issues.

 

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