I’m becoming increasingly wary of slick political campaigns which promise to help our resource starved public schools, and once enacted, end up doing more harm than good.
How can you spot one of these campaigns – besides the big money spent on advertising? The lack of details. These initiatives are always short on specifics and high on gushing testimonials on just how much they care about kids.
Evidently, the power of caring alone proves their plan is worthy of support. Messy details are explained away in the same way: We care so trust us with the money.
Inevitably, once the initiative passes, what sounded like a good idea ends up adding another layer of bureaucracy.
Even more frustrating, once created, this bureaucracy quickly becomes more focused on serving the interests of the political class and their financial backers, than helping actual students.
The Families and Education Levy
I learned this lesson the hard way, by supporting Seattle’s Families & Education Levy in 2011.
This $231,562,000 initiative promised to fill in the gaps created by McCleary and help struggling kids prepare for college and career.
It sounded so good, what could go wrong?
Parents found out pretty quickly.
What was billed as Seattle’s way to make up the money Olympia refused to supply, quickly transformed into a mini No Child Left Behind.
Test scores and subjugation to the Levy’s rigid rules of compliance quickly came to the forefront. Business discipline was meted out to those school who had the gall to refuse to obey the edicts handed down from the levy oversight committee.
A school that lost a principal had their levy money withheld, and later re-instated after a huge public backlash, because the levy oversight committee decided this change violated the school’s grant agreement.
Parents who opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment learned their kids were pressured by administrators to take the test because refusing carried “financial penalties” for the school.
The City of Seattle Soda Tax
Fast forward to 2017. The Seattle City Council just approved a 1.75 cent an ounce tax on soda pop.
Once the ordinance passed, there was a raging debate in the local media over what beverages would and would not be taxed.
The question of where the money collected would be spent? Not so clear and really depended on where you got your news.
If you watch King 5 News, the money would fund “programs designed to educate young people”.
If you saw a segment on CBS News the goal of the tax was “to raise millions for programs that promote access to healthy food and help address education disparities between white and minority students.”
And The Stranger weighed in with:
1. Discouraging people from consuming sugar, which is linked to diabetes and heart disease, and 2. Creating a funding stream for programs aimed at closing the achievement gap between students of color and white students.
The text of the actual ordinance paints a somewhat different picture. (CB118965v3 (1) )
First, the ordinance creates a Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board, which is very similar in makeup and duties as the Families and Education Levy Oversight Committee.
Here’s where the fine print matters.
For the first five years the tax is collected, 20% of that money will be used to fund one time projects – which have very little to do with healthy eating or food security.
Instead, the ordinance priorities building education infrastructure that supports the Department of Early Learning’s agenda – and throwing a tiny bone to the groups that opposed the tax.
Here’s the list:
- One-time costs necessary to enable the administration of the tax;
- Up to $5,000,000 in total as a contribution to an endowment for the Seattle Colleges 13th Year Promise Scholarship Fund;
- Up to $1,500,000 in total as funding for jobs retraining and placement programs for workers adversely impacted by the tax; and
- Funding of capital projects to construct or enhance classroom facilities for use by the Seattle Preschool Program.
Did you catch that?
The soda tax will create a capital fund that builds and enhances classrooms for the Seattle Preschool Program. Sneaky move, Councilman Tim Burgess.
Wait, there’s more.
Starting on the 6th year of the tax, there will be two funding priorities. One will support healthy eating and the other will be:
Evidence-based programs that improve the social, emotional, educational, physical health, and mental health for children, especially those services that seek to reduce disparities in outcomes for children and families based on race, gender, or other socioeconomic factors and to prepare children for a strong and fair start in kindergarten. (bold mine)
So, buried in a feel good ordinance, which claimed to help kids eat healthy, was a funding plan designed to support Seattle’s Preschool Program.
Is it because the Seattle Preschool Program hasn’t lived up to the hype used to convince voters to approve the initiative the first time around?
Even worst – problems – which critics of the initiative pointed out during the election and were ignored or belittled by the local media – turned out to be true.
The Washington Legislature has made crystal clear that they have no intention of funding our public schools – and Governor Inslee has backed them up.
This puts our schools in a dangerous and precarious situation.
Expect charlatans to start selling alternative ways to fund our schools.
One idea will be social impact bonds. The other, more regressive taxes, like this soda tax.
Don’t succumb to to the snake oil salesmen.
The Washington State Constitution requires the state to provide ample funding for our public schools.
Don’t settle for less.