Our state leaders have said they understand the importance of higher education for Washington’s citizens, yet disinvest in public education at the same time. When the state decreases funding for schools, tuition rises, making higher education increasingly out of reach for many, unless they take out gargantuan student loans.
We could afford to fully fund higher education if we didn’t give companies like Boeing huge tax breaks while they downsize and lay Washingtonians off.
Because of the increasing cost of tuition, the enrollment of full-time equivalent students (FTEs) in our community college system dropped 11% from 2012 to 2016. This has created a difficult situation for Washingtonians: either they take out a lot of debt for access to the economic gains that an education provides, or they remain debt-free without as many opportunities. Either way, they’re handicapped from the start.
Defunding public community colleges is a legislative choice; it is not inevitable. The Washington State Legislature, while defunding higher education, gave billions of dollars of handouts in the form of tax exemptions to the richest and most powerful corporations in our state. Boeing was handed an $8.7 billion gift extending to 2040, which has already overrun estimates in public largess and will most certainly exceed total estimated costs for the state of Washington. This gift to Boeing was packaged up in Senate Bill SB 5952, which the Legislature approved in a rushed two day special session in 2013. The purpose was supposedly to incentivize a long-term commitment to maintain and grow jobs in the aerospace industry in Washington State.
What really happened? Boeing received tax exemptions worth almost $800 million in 2014, 2015, and 2016. And Boeing shed over 10,000 jobs during this same time period. So Boeing received from our state $77,000 for every single job that the company took away from our state!
Rather than give Boeing money to move jobs out of our state, how about we use that money to enable students and potential students to go to community college? If we sewed tight Boeing’s tax exemptions, and dedicated those funds to community college tuition, we could cover the first year of tuition for all community college students – $250 million pays for a year for 135,000 students!
If we also close the tax loopholes for Microsoft, Amazon, and other multinational corporations, we can get very close to covering the full two years of tuition for all community college students.
What’s more important for our state: catering to the already rich and powerful, or opening up higher education for all residents? Our political leaders claim their service to the citizens. Let’s have them invest our tax money in our children and fellow citizens, not the corporations which cast their shadows in our state.