by Misha Werschkul
Public schools are foundational to community well-being, and I’m proud to be a public school parent. Over the past few weeks, I have loved seeing my daughter — along with thousands of students at more than a dozen schools — participate in the Move-A-Thon fundraiser with the Southeast Seattle Schools Fundraising Alliance. Her fundraising pitch focused on how much she loves her teachers and how fun it was to do all the activities on the Move-A-Thon bingo board.
At the same time, while the fundraiser was underway, I heard from her school’s principal and Seattle Public Schools leaders about the threat of budget cuts to come. The heartbreaking cuts could include losses of dozens of assistant principal and other staff positions, reductions in math and reading supports, and even, potentially, school closures. This is not the direction things should be going if we want to set up all kids, regardless of their family income, race, or neighborhood, for bright futures.
I’m grateful for the role local PTAs and efforts like the Southeast Seattle Schools Fundraising Alliance can play in making up some of the funding shortfalls. But ultimately, it’s only through our state budget and tax code that we can support well-resourced and equity-focused public schools.
This is part of why I was so relieved when the Washington State Supreme Court decisively kept in place the capital gains tax, which will provide $500 million in annual statewide funding for schools and early learning programs. The Court overwhelmingly rejected a cynical attempt by a small group of ultra-wealthy people to avoid paying this commonsense new tax that supports our communities.
Washington State has the most upside-down tax code in the nation, where people with the lowest incomes contribute six times more — as a share of their incomes — in state and local taxes than the wealthiest Washingtonians. The capital gains excise tax, which the State Legislature approved alongside the new state Working Families Tax Credit in 2021, is a meaningful step toward beginning to balance the state tax code.
By funding schools and early learning through ensuring the ultra-wealthy start paying what they owe, the capital gains tax supports all our communities. Its positive impact ripples beyond the critical support for schools, teachers, and kids and families. When more parents have access to affordable child care, they can more easily participate in the workforce and engage in their communities. And research shows there are very real economic benefits from funding early learning: Every $1 invested in high-quality early learning today boosts future earnings of kids and parents by $12.
I am proud to work for a public policy organization, the Washington State Budget and Policy Center , which worked alongside so many other nonprofits, unions, racial justice organizations, education advocates, and more to protect the capital gains tax. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the tax against the wealthy few who didn’t want to pay it is proof that when people come together and fight for changes in state law that put kids first, we can and we will win.
Now, as we face continued news of possible cuts to Seattle public schools and other schools across our state, join me in continuing to advocate for a truly balanced state tax code, where everyone contributes equitably to things like schools, parks, and other public investments. Our State Legislature is working right now to finalize the state budget for the upcoming two years. Prioritizing efforts to further balance the tax code can help support resources for schools all across the state. In particular, lawmakers still have time to pass a wealth tax on billionaires, and to make changes to the estate tax and the real estate excise tax that would make them more equitable.
Public schools are special and important places, and public education plays a vital role in a healthy democracy. I am celebrating the Washington Supreme Court ruling in favor of kids and families — and I know we can’t give up until every child in Seattle and in our state has access to fully funded, high-quality public education.
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Misha Werschkul is the executive director of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, an organization that works to advance the economic well-being of people in Washington.
📸 Featured image by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com.
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