(L-R) Chopped champion and Seattle Public Schools Executive Chef Emme Collins, La Spiga Chef Wil Yee, Chef and author Becky Selengut
(L-R) Chef and author Becky Selengut, La Spiga Chef Wil Yee, Chopped contestant and Seattle Public Schools Executive Chef Emme Collins Emily Reiter, Selfie, Mandy Clementine

Seattle Community College and other community and technical colleges in Washington have been warning us for years that this was coming, but chefs throughout the Seattle area were shocked to the core when we learned Seattle Central administrators planned to shut down four workforce training programs, including the 81-year old Seattle Culinary Academy.

SCA has trained thousands of students, including the three of us. Graduates have gone on to become well-known restaurant owners, chefs de cuisine, pastry chefs, and cookbook authors. Our ranks include Kathy Casey, Kristi Brown of Communion, Garrett Doherty of Lionhead, Guillermo Carreno of Autumn, Donnie Adams and Paolo Campbell of The Chicken Supply, and many more. Seattle Culinary graduates turn right around and hire SCA students because they bring extensive training and technical skill sets to restaurant, bakery, catering and hotel kitchens.

SCA is fully enrolled, and 97% of graduates get jobs right away (many while still in school) because there is such a high demand for well-trained workers in Seattle’s food industry. The pandemic and rising food costs have hit our industry especially hard, and many of our businesses are woefully understaffed. To lose such a shining example of affordable education and job training that prepares cooks and bakers to join our industry would be yet another economic blow to our state’s already stressed industry.

Seattle Central College is an affordable school, and the Seattle Culinary Academy has one of — if not the most — diverse student populations on campus. Closing this critical workforce development program will not just hurt an already stressed industry but exacerbate systemic equity issues in our education system, closing off an avenue for many who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend culinary school and make the important connections in the industry facilitated by the faculty at SCA.

Thanks to quick student organizing and a groundswell of public support from many restaurant industry leaders and alums, college administrators announced they would keep the Culinary Academy and other workforce programs running for the fall semester. We’re grateful to Seattle Colleges Chancellor Shouan Pan and SCC Interim President Yoshiko Harden for doing what they can to keep the Seattle Maritime Academy, the Wood Technology Program, the Apparel and Design Program, and the Culinary Academy open for students for fall semester.

However this is a temporary stopgap measure. Washington’s community and technical college budgets are in an emergency situation, and administrators will be forced to keep canceling important training programs until there are only a few left.

Lawmakers in Olympia are doing their best, recently passing a state capital gains tax on the stock market profits of the super-rich to fund community colleges, as well as K-12, preschool, and child care. The tax of 7% applies to just 0.1% of Washingtonians, those who make huge profits on the stock market. The tax does not apply to real estate, retirement accounts, or small business sales. Every year the capital gains tax will put $500 million more into the Education Legacy Trust Account, which is a major source of funding for Washington’s community and technical colleges. In the last budget cycle it funded $56 million for workforce programs like the Seattle Culinary Academy.

Unfortunately, a few special interests are trying to take away funding for our community and technical colleges. They sued to stop the capital gains tax; their case is now on appeal to the State Supreme Court. They are also backing a new ballot initiative, I-1929, to repeal the capital gains tax and take money away from education, putting the Seattle Culinary Academy, and dozens of other community college workforce training programs, in greater jeopardy.

It’s time to take the long view. We are destined to be faced with heart-breaking decisions about which important, equitable program to cut if not now, then tomorrow, until the day comes when we fund the society we want to live in. We’re ready to live in that world now and we’re prepared to fight for it.