Line drawn on education

Education backers point to the need.

Opponents fear the cost.

Initiative 884, which voters will decide on Nov. 2, has been dubbed the “education initiative” and would benefit students from preschool through college.

The initiative would create a $1 billion-a-year education trust fund with money collected from a new, permanent 1-cent increase in the state sales tax.

Educators say I-884 would provide more money to help kindergarten through high school students meet tough academic standards and improve scores on state exams.

Universities and community colleges point to record high school graduating classes on the horizon and the fact that the state now isn’t keeping up with the rising numbers of students.

Statewide, colleges and universities have admitted an estimated 13,000 students without state aid. By 2010, that number could exceed 30,000, according to state estimates.

I-884 creates 32,000 new state-funded enrollments at two- and four-year colleges and universities. Everett and Edmonds community colleges would each receive funding for 1,000 more students.

“The bottom line is we need to give all of our upcoming students the same opportunity we had to get an education,” said Jack Oharah, president of EdCC. “If we don’t fund this, a lot of them won’t have the same opportunity.”

Mari Taylor sees the issue from several perspectives. She is a Lake Stevens School Board member, a university student and a mother with two daughters in college and a third in high school.

“I will vote for it,” she said. “I will gladly pay the extra money.”

Even so, Taylor said the initiative is only a partial answer.

“We have to come up with a solution that is not regressive, and not creating a feeling that we already provided education its share and we don’t need to worry about it anymore,” she said.

Opponents say I-884 is too expensive and offers no guarantees.

Sultan resident Roxanne Hussman helps run Ed’s Apples, the family’s orchard business. She opposes the initiative, pointing to the loss of manufacturing jobs in the state.

“This initiative will crush an already crumbling business environment,” she said.

“Private-sector jobs create revenue, while public-sector jobs devour revenue.”

Jamie Daniels, director of Washington’s chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy/Freedom Works, questions whether the Legislature might amend the initiative and redirect the money to the general fund.

I-884 is a tricky for many business organizations. The Association of Washington Business and the Washington Roundtable, which represents top executives of the state’s largest private employers, took no position on the measure.

Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, said I-884 generates strong feelings both ways.

“Some feel the Legislature will not sufficiently fund education, particularly community colleges and universities, without I-884,” he said. “Others strongly believe I-884 further harms businesses in border cities like Vancouver, Clarkston, Pullman and Spokane.”

Closer to home, the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce took no position on the measure.

“The chamber feels strongly about the need to adequately fund education, particularly our community colleges in Snohomish County. But there was no agreement that I-884 was the appropriate mechanism to address this complex funding issue,” said Louise Stanton-Masten, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.

The state Department of Revenue estimated I-884 would cost about $215 a year in additional sales taxes for a median-income family earning $52,000 a year.

Natalie Reber, of the pro I-884 group Citizens for the Educational Trust Fund, said the same family would end up paying less in taxes if President Bush signs legislation approved by Congress this week that would allow state residents to deduct their state sales taxes from their federal income taxes. The Congressional Research Service estimates the tax benefit would average $470.

Organizations endorsing the initiative include the state PTA, Washington Education Association and Children’s Alliance advocacy group.

Neither of the candidates for governor, Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi, backs I-884.

The campaign to approve I-884 has raised $2.2 million in cash and $73,000 in in-kind contributions. Top contributors included Microsoft, $200,000, and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, $150,000; Nick Hanauer, a Seattle businessman and co-president of the League of Education Voters, $235,000; and retired Seattle businessman James Pigott, $150,000. There also were more than 650 contributions ranging from $5 to $100.

As of last week, the League of Freedom Voters, which opposes the measure, had raised $15,320 and $14,925 in in-kind contributions.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or stevick@heraldnet.com.

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