WASHINGTON: Murray Announces Plans To Expand Soda Tax To Help Address Disparities In Education, Access To Healthy Foods

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced an $18 million proposal to fund education and healthy food programs, including nearly $10 million for the Education Action Plan, a series of programs aimed at eliminating the opportunity gap between white students and African American/Black and other students of color. An additional $5.7 million will fund increased support for children from birth-to-five years old and their caregivers, such as prenatal care. And $3.2 million will fund expanded food access including the Fresh Bucks program, which provides low-income households vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. These programs will be funded by a 1.75 cent sweetened beverage tax Mayor Murray transmitted to Council today.

“Addressing equity in education and health are paramount challenges to ensure everyone has access to opportunity in Seattle,” said Murray. “It is imperative that we proactively support Seattle Public Schools students and improved food access with frontline programs that put equity first. Healthy kids get better educations and are more likely to have a brighter future. The sweetened beverage tax transmitted today gives the City the financial resources to address each of these challenges.”

Despite significant efforts to provide an equitable education system, a persistent opportunity gap exists between white and Black students in education. In Seattle, according to officials, public school students of color meet third grade reading standards at a rate 31 percent lower than white students. The proposed investments in the Education Action Plan will be implemented using guidelines recommended by the Education Advisory Group that are directly tied to eliminating educational disparities for African American/Black students and other students of color.

The robust investments proposed in the Education Action Plan will significantly scale up programs devoted to eliminating inequality in education such as investments in before and after school opportunities like STEM extracurricular classes; adding more mentors in schools; reducing discipline disparities by providing personalized case management and providing special training to teachers; expanding summer learning programs; funding more internships; and diversifying Seattle’s teaching staff.

To fund these investments in education and food access, Murray has proposed a local tax on naturally and artificially sweetened drinks including soda, energy drinks, juice and sweetened teas. The proposed $0.0175 per ounce (1.75 cents) tax is expected to raise $23 million for the first year, and because consumption is expected to decline, $18 million annually thereafter. Of the revenue raised in the first year, 20 percent will be invested in one-time start-up costs or time-limited projects such as $5 million for the 13th Year program – an investment intended to ensure all Seattle Public Schools graduates can attend at least one year at the Seattle Colleges.

The $3.2 million investment in the Fresh Bucks program helps fund a match of purchases at Farmers Markets for low-income recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, promoting more healthy eating by increasing accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables. This investment is important because the Fresh Bucks program is supported by federal funding which is not expected to be renewed by the Trump Administration. Additional health investments will also address food insecurity for households that do not qualify for SNAP or who may be unauthorized immigrants.

The Education Action Plan is the result of the City’s inclusive process that began in 2016 by bringing various communities together to address education disparities for African-American/Black students and students of color. The City heard from a total of over 2,000 parents, teachers, and advocates on how best to combat these disparities across 20 community conversations, on-line forums, and Seattle’s first citywide Education Summit in over 25 years. From those conversations, an Advisory Group was formed of representatives from the City, Seattle Public Schools, community organizations, businesses, philanthropies and education advocates to create recommendations that would address the opportunity gap.

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