by Sharonne Navas and Rachael Myers
Come the start of the legislative session next week, elected representatives must come up with an additional $1 billion of funding by the start of next school year to fully fund education. This latest McCleary development gives Washington another chance to create an education system that equitably invests in the success of all children. If we don’t clean up our upside-down tax code to fund education, we will only exacerbate the problems we hope to solve, increase inequality in schools and communities, and further widen the opportunity gap.
As it stands, our criminally underfunded education system relies on regressive taxes for funding, meaning that the poorest people in Washington pay the largest percentage of their income in taxes, while the richest pay the least. By January 9, the wealthiest households in our state have earned enough money to pay their share of state taxes for the entire year, while working people need more than two months to do the same. Simply put, our tax code is upside-down. Not only is this unsustainable (our public goods, like high-quality schools, are in need of resources), but it places an undue burden on the working class. In Washington, our community investments – the programs and resources that are intended to help people – are funded on the backs of low-income families and families of color.
Though low-income communities and communities of color bear the burden of funding education, they are not receiving the benefits. When schools don’t have the resources they need, kids of color and low-income kids are the first to get left behind. Ample funding is necessary to remove barriers to opportunity for English language learners, kids with disabilities, refugees, immigrants, and low-income kids and kids of color generally.
Washington, which ranks 35th in per student spending in America, and has a persistently large opportunity and achievement gap, needs to invest in securing equal opportunities for each and every child, and not leave kids of color and low-income kids behind. In Washington, we have an education system that both underserves and yet is disproportionately funded by low-income families and families of color.
Moreover, we fear that instead of fixing our upside-down tax code, some will suggest we cut critical social services to fund schools. This is yet another attack on low-income communities and communities of color.
Cutting human services, like affordable and accessible food, housing, and healthcare, to fund education would only serve to hurt students. State investments in programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, State Food Assistance, the Washington Families Fund, the foster care system, and the Housing Trust Fund provide a source of stability that keeps kids learning. These services prevent educational crisis brought on by health problems, an eviction, job loss, or incarceration in the family, protecting a child’s opportunity to a bright future. Without preserving social services, we’ll grow the opportunity gap wider, and once again unfairly punish low-income families.
To us, it is abundantly clear that we need to fully fund education and provide low-income students and students of color with the opportunities they need to succeed. It is also obvious that we need to fully fund education without increasing inequality and driving low-income families and families of color deeper into poverty. From these apparent needs, one solution clearly follows: to fully fund education, Washington has to clean up its upside-down tax code.
Sharonne Navas is the Executive Director of the Equity in Education Coalition, Washington State’s largest coalition of stakeholders from communities of color and white allies who are striving to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for children of color.
Rachael Myers is the Executive Director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, a statewide advocacy organization leading the movement to ensure that everyone in Washington has the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Jim Bowen