With the latest kafka-esque announcement from Seattle Public Schools (SPS) delaying the announcement of 20 elementary schools closing next year, frustrated parents and educators who have attended over five district-led, citywide community meetings in the last month are boiling with good questions: How can we stop school closures? And how can we equitably fund our schools?  

The problem is that the proper target for these questions isn’t really the school board; rather, it’s our state lawmakers. Unfortunately, state lawmakers don’t reconvene in Olympia until January. And even then, few legislators have had the gall to “amply fund education,” the state’s “paramount duty,” according to the constitution. Why? Well, to do that they would need to make transformative change. And to make that transformative change, they’d need to stand up to the rich. 

Unfortunately, our state legislators are no Robin Hoods. Even when they know what’s coming, they don’t act responsibly. For instance, everyone knew one-time COVID relief funds would run out, and yet schools across the country and all over Washington find themselves about to run off fiscal cliffs. Last session, experts such as University of Washington Professor David Knight directly warned state lawmakers about this impending budget crisis, but during the 2024 legislative session our state representatives and senators appeared to have little appetite to meaningfully address the looming deficits. Kinda weird, given that they’ve acted with urgency when industry faces a crisis, like when they held a special session to bailout Boeing in 2013

Here in Seattle, we face projected deficits of $105 million for 2024-25, but also $129 million for 2025-26, and $153 million for the year after. To save our schools and fully fund our education statewide, we need to pressure state and local lawmakers to expand current progressive taxes and to pass new ones. 

Our current tax code, which is the 49th most regressive one in the country, punishes the working class with property and sales taxes. The silver bullet needed to eliminate that problem, some argue, involves restructuring our code around much more progressive taxes. Part of that restructuring would mean passing a graduated income tax and then hoping the state Supreme Court overturns precedent. Unfortunately, instead of letting it go to a ballot this November, last session the Legislature approved a billionaire-backed initiative banning an income tax, signaling that they won't pass such a tax any time soon. But there is still hope. 

One success so far, fingers-crossed, is the capital gains tax passed by the Legislature in 2021. That tax has brought in over $900 million to our state, but it also faces a billionaire-backed challenge at the ballot box this November. If the voters save it, then the Legislature could expand it as a short-term solution for immediate funds at SPS. 

Short of instituting an income tax, this election cycle opens up the opportunity to elect a supermajority of Democrats to the State Legislature. If that happens, then with enough pressure they could change the state constitution to lower the voting threshold for passing local school bonds from 60% to a simple majority, which would allow districts out east to tax themselves more easily. But electing a supermajority of Democrats looks tough, and pushing that party to actually use their majority for good instead of just trying to preserve it is always an uphill battle.

In the longer term, the Legislature could pass a wealth tax, which is supported by 67% of the state, according to a 2023 poll of likely voters. However, some powerful players haven’t really gotten behind that tax. In their Spring Representative Assembly, the Washington Education Association (WEA) let a resolution fail that would have provided funding for a campaign to support such a tax, a sign that the WEA today is not the ally the Grange had when they fought together for an income tax in 1929. WEA did, however, pass a resolution to support the defense against the initiative that would repeal the capital gains tax, an important but defensive move. If you are an educator or union member, you can pressure the WEA to take more transformative actions.

Another way to help is to join the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America (SDSA), where there are rumors of a workgroup dedicated to taking a working-class approach to fully funding our schools. Part of those talks include reaching across to the east side of the state to build more working-class support to tax the rich and fund our schools. 

If you really want to exercise your frustration at a local school board meeting, then tell them to add progressive revenue to their legislative priorities, like they did last year, and to move in solidarity with higher-poverty districts across the state and on the outskirts of our city.   

At the end of the day, the solution to Seattle’s deficits doesn’t lie in asking to speak to the closest manager. It lies in joining those of us already doing the work in our local rank-and-file union caucuses, or in joining our local, grassroots progressive tax coalitions and not stopping until we are all free. After all, we can all agree that the Washington State Legislature has a “paramount duty” to make sure we do not become Florida. 

Oliver Treanor Miska, 33, is a queer Seattleite, educator, community organizer, and lobbyist for educational justice policy in Washington State. Throughout the development of this article, they benefited from the wisdom of many elders and experts. As a community organizer, Oliver has held leadership roles within Seattle Democratic Socialist of America and Washington Ethnic Studies Now, where they co-lead a statewide legislative coalition. Oliver is also a partner in the fight for equitable spending in our schools with a coalition convened by the Equity in Education Coalition. Informing their work as an education policy nerd, Oliver is in their sixth year of teaching in both public and independent schools in Seattle. To contact them, email: legislativecommittee@waethnicstudies.com