Proponents of an effort to expand access to arts, science, and heritage education in King County are making their final push before ballots are due on Aug. 1.
Last week, some of the organizations that would stand to benefit from the passage of Proposition 1 — the “Access for All” campaign — revealed just what the additional funding from a 0.1 percent sales tax increase (to raise an estimated $70 million per year) would mean for them. The effort stems from a 2015 state law allowing counties to create a “cultural access program,” funded through either a property tax jump (in every county but King) or the aforementioned increase in the sales tax. The tax would then come up for renewal before voters seven years after its passage.
“Access to hands on arts, science, and heritage education is all too often determined by what zip code you live in, or how much money your school district has to provide these experiences,” said campaign manager Jack Sorenson. “The fact of the matter is that kids who grow up in Renton, Kent, Tukwila, further south than that down to Enumclaw and east King County don’t have the same opportunities as kids who grow up in other parts of the county.”
If approved, approximately 350 organizations would stand to receive funding. Larger entities, like the Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Symphony, Pacific Science Center, and the Museum of Flight — all represented during a Wednesday press conference at the Seattle Children’s Museum— plan to expand free and low-cost ticket and membership programs, and increase their outreach efforts. Smaller, community-based organizations would have the flexibility to use funds to cover operating expenses or capital projects. The measure would also fund in-class programs and free field trips for public school students throughout the county.
“This is our chance to ensure that these invaluable educational experiences that open minds and doors for kids and families are available for all of our neighbors soon,” Sorenson said.
Doug King, president and CEO of the Museum of Flight, said that voters to pass similar arts funding measures in cities like St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Denver have been happy with the results.
“I think what’s going to happen if Access for All doesn’t pass is our community’s going to miss a huge opportunity,” he said.
However, some critics say that the reliance on sales tax is too regressive, especially at a time when the region is dealing with issues surrounding affordability. But those in favor of the measure note that raising one cent for every $10 spent would mean about $3 per month for the average household, and would not take away from other funding needs.
“We have built a program that is progressive in what it funds,” Sorenson said.
That means that schools with the highest percentage of children on free and reduced price lunch are prioritized when it comes to education funding, while hundreds of local arts organizations are provided with stable, dedicated funding.
“It will enable us to ignite curiosity and fuel passion for discovery, critical thinking, and experimentation to underserved communities all over our county,” said Keni Sturgeon, vice president of science engagement and outreach at the Pacific Science Center, which would expand its family access memberships if the measure is approved. Right now, a $19 membership is available through the program to anyone who receives any form of public assistance.
“These families tell us that this is making a real difference in their lives,” she said.
The Children’s Museum would expand its own “Passport 2 Play” initiative, which currently serves more than 30,000 visitors with free or reduced admission. The money would also go toward creating culturally relevant and sensitive programming, said Amy Hale, director of education and volunteers at the museum.
“That’s a gift that we can all enjoy, regardless, that’s something that we all need in order to be able to better understand ourselves, our world, and those around us,” she said.
Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Alejandro Grajal said Proposition 1 would mean the zoo could “open our doors to more families across King County,” well beyond the 80,000 passes it gives away each year to community partners. The Seattle Symphony would more than double the number of tickets distributed through its Family Connections and Community Connections programs from 2,200 to 5,000 each year.
“Parents are constantly telling us that an experience at the symphony matters a great deal to their families,” said Laura Reynolds, the symphony’s director of education and community engagement.
Jim Wharton, the director of conservation and education at the Seattle Aquarium, compared the aquarium to “a lens through which people can begin to understand the strange, and somewhat inaccessible world of the ocean.”
However, he said, the aquarium itself should never be inaccessible, and that the passage of Proposition 1 would allow the organization to go well beyond the current 50,000 tickets it currently distributes to low-income and underserved communities each year. He also noted the potential for a live-animal outreach vehicle, which would, “allow us to bring the ocean to farthest reaches of King County.”
Wharton also invoked pioneering ocean scientist Eugenie Clark, and her frequent visits as a child to the New York Aquarium in instilling her passion for marine biology.
“I don’t want to miss the next Eugenie Clark,” Wharton said. “And with Access for All, I don’t think we have to.”
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