Education initiative heading for November ballot

This November, Washington State voters will have the opportunity to affect the future of education in the state by voting for or against Initiative 884.

With more than 327,000 signatures awaiting verification, I-884 looks likely to make the November 2004 ballot.

I-884 seeks to raise the state retail sales tax by one percent, with revenue collected going toward the Education Trust Fund (ETF).

“We’ve seen a decline in education funding the last 10 years,” Natalie Reber, the Director of Communications for the Education Trust Fund said.

Coupled with an “inability by the legislature to look at more funding for education,” Reber said the time was right for a initiative to the people.

“The League of Education Voters (the parent organization for the ETF) took it among themselves to look into sources of funding,” she said. Enter I-884.

“First of all it creates funding for education programs from pre-school to higher education with a one percent sales tax increase,” Reber continued.

“It also creates 16,000 new low income all-day preschool [slots], K-12 improvements — from lower class size to targeted funding for ESL students and those living in poverty,” Reber added.

In addition I-884 calls for incentives for teachers, from raising base pay rates to loan forgiveness for new teachers willing to teach in high need areas such as math and special education.

According to Reber, the initiative also addresses higher education.

“It provides [funding for] 32,000 new higher education enrollments for the state’s community colleges and university’s,” she said.

The initiatives primary opposition at this point is coming from the Citizen’s for a Sound Economy (CSE) and their political action group the League of Freedom Voters.

“We think the impact of the sales tax will be devastating,” Jamie Daniels, Washington State director of CSE and treasurer and campaign manager for the League of Freedom voters said.

Daniels explained her group looked at studies that said “it will be an immediate loss of 10,000 jobs in the retail sector.”

“We’re opposed to raising taxes,” Daniels said. “The basis of our organization is that we are for lower taxes, less government and more personal freedom.”

Daniels stressed her group believes that education should be a priority in the state — but not funded with a tax hike.

“[We need to use] basic economic principles,” she said. “Attract more business to the state. More jobs grow the economy and there will be more money to spend for education.”

Another area of concern, Daniels said, was that of accountability.

“There needs to be more accountability and this initiative does not look at any of the current money for education,” she said. “This just freezes it. They need to go back and look at what works now and what doesn’t work.”

According to Reber, however, the initiative was written to deal with that concern.

“We created a citizen oversight board of parents and taxpayers,” she said. “And with the state auditor they will oversee the legislature to make sure the money is spent correctly.”

In addition, Reber said the districts will have a say in how money will be spent in their district.

“Money for the K-12 will be distributed by districts,” she said. “They have to hold public hearings [and distribute the money in a public manner.]”

“They have a menu and they can choose to spend the money on the items on that,” she said.

The initiative seeks to help out districts by reducing class sizes, increasing opportunities for tutoring and advanced and college prep classes, as well as increased base pay and more training for teachers.

“We think it has a great chance,” Reber said. “The initiative really came out of small citizens meetings across the state, asking local folks where they thought the need was. This was developed by what the voters said they want, and we are offering that to them now.”

Reach Reporter Shawn Skager at 253-841-2481 ext. 316 or by e-mail at shawn.skager@mail.tribnet.com.

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