Local capital gains tax is one step towards a better Washington

Students are not just a data point, and the years students spend in school shape who we become, making it crucial that we invest in these spaces.

On March 23, the Washington Supreme Court announced its decision to validate a capital gains tax that will directly benefit Washington’s public education system.

The tax, which is a 7 percent capital gains tax on stock sales with profits over $250,000 annually, only affects .02 percent of Washingtonians, but will bring $500 million in funding to public K-12 schools, community colleges, and childcare through the Education Legacy Trust Account and the Common School Construction Account.

The funds from these accounts directly affect students like me. As a junior at a Washington public high school, my peers and I will first hand see the benefits of this funding. Funding that our public school system desperately needs.

At my school, Vashon Island High School (VHS), I have been heavily involved with our school’s paper, The Riptide. In fact, this year, I find myself as Editor-in-Chief. As a journalist at a student paper, it is my job to give a voice and platform to my fellow students.

In every issue, we run a feature story where we tackle a deeper issue affecting students. It was in the process of writing and interviewing for one of these features — on disability student advocacy — that I came to realize how many students were struggling because of the difficulties my school and district were having in supporting them.

As we reported in our Oct. 2022 feature, “Conversation surrounding disabled student advocacy at VHS engages both staff and students,” 12% of VHS students are served by an Individualized Education Program (IEP); many of whom feel that their needs are being inadequately met by the school.

One student we interviewed, Wendy Axtelle, a 2023 graduate and the founder of the VHS Disability Student Advocacy Club, said, “I genuinely think we need big changes. Our whole education system, as a country [and] globally, is not built [to serve] all students…”

Students who have disabilities and who are served by IEPs will benefit from the capital gains tax, as IEPs are managed by schools’ special education departments which receive state funding, and will see increased funding from this tax.

Students and teachers in Washington are also suffering from a mental health crisis that was magnified by the pandemic. In a story on the mental health effects in the return to in-person school, The Riptide published results from a mental health survey we conducted in 2022. We found that 56.3 percent of student respondents reported being depressed and 82.1% anxious.

These numbers should scare you. But support from the community can save lives.

Additionally, as my classmates and I slowly reach the end of our high school years and begin to tackle the arduous journey of applying to college, hefty tuition costs are a harsh reality. Because of the painfully high cost of higher education, many are being forced to consider different options. The revenue from the capital gains tax will also make a difference in educational opportunities beyond high school by increasing funding in Washington community and technical colleges.

The call for increased funding in public education is one I have heard throughout my entire life, but I think it is too easy for our calls to become lost in the wind. In many ways, it feels like there are too many problems in the world and too few dollars to solve them. It is easy to start looking at students’ lives as just another statistic, and it’s even easier to get overwhelmed by these statistics. So, please let me break this down for you with the only expertise I have: lived experience.

Students are not just a data point, and the years students spend in the K-12 school shape who we become, making it crucial that we invest in these spaces.

As students, we deserve equity in our public education system. Equity that is only attainable with monetary support. And as a community, Washington deserves to have an educated population. An educated population—which will happen if we appropriately fund childcare and public education from Pre-K through college—will make Washington a more prosperous community, both economically, culturally and socially.

In other words, everyone benefits from well-funded schools. This tax bill is just one necessary step to a more equitable, and educated Washington, and the impacts will not only be seen today, but in many years down the line, as well.

Lila Cohen is a student at Vashon High School and Editor-in-Chief of The Riptide.