Though the League of Education Voters and the Washington Education Association often disagree, they are united in the opinion the state Legislature should eliminate tax exemptions for large, national, out-of-state banks, write the leaders of both organizations.

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WHICH is more important for families across Washington state — tax breaks for highly profitable, national banks or smaller classes for children learning to read? That is the stark policy choice facing legislators in the final days of the special session.

The League of Education Voters and the Washington Education Association don’t always see eye-to-eye, but when it comes to doing everything we can to ensure that our children learn to read, we are of one mind. That’s why we are urging legislators to vote yes on House Bill 2078.

The bill would help preserve our state’s longtime commitment to smaller K-3 class sizes by eliminating the tax break on interest earned on first mortgages by the largest, national, out-of-state banks and dedicating the funding to K-3 class-size reduction. Locally based banks, those that operate in 10 states or fewer, would not be affected. Capping this exemption generates $115 million per two-year budget enabling the Legislature to begin to live up to its promises to fund lower class sizes in the K-3 grades.

Teaching children to read is, unarguably, our state’s single most important educational objective. Reading is the foundation for all learning. Students who don’t master reading by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade are a proven strategy that enables primary-school teachers to focus on the individual development needs of every child.

The Washington state constitution could not be clearer: Providing ample funding for education is the paramount duty of the state. Yet both the Senate and House budgets propose slashing funding for smaller class sizes in the primary grades. This is not just a temporary setback. This is leaving behind a generation of children who will struggle all their lives because they did not get the extra help they need in their most formative years. It’s a tragic mistake for whole communities and a costly mistake for our state.

Washington state spends several billion dollars in public funds on tax breaks every year. Typically, tax exemptions are designed to achieve important state goals such as creating jobs or encouraging research and development, but many linger far beyond any useful public purpose because they are protected by special interests. Worse, special interests circle their wagons to protect each other’s exemptions.

In fact, most tax breaks never get reviewed to see if they actually produce the public benefit that was promised. So once tax breaks are passed, they rarely get taken off the books, even when our state has to ax priorities the public, our elected officials and our state constitution all deem essential.

Two of these priorities, the class-size initiative (Initiative 728) and the cost-of-living adjustment for teachers and school employees (I-732), are being suspended by the Legislature again. Voters overwhelmingly approved these initiatives but funding constraints have caused the Legislature to suspend them multiple times over the past decade. Have the voters overwhelmingly agreed to give that money in tax breaks to national banks and other corporations?

Simply put, we believe teaching children to read by third grade is a higher priority for Washington than giving public funds away to large, national banks for nothing in return. There is no evidence that this tax break for the nation’s largest banks has resulted in lower mortgage rates for Washington’s homebuyers. On the contrary, this tax exemption simply translates into higher profits for the same banks the federal government spent billions to bail out.

Our state can ill afford to continue this generous tax break for out-of-state banks when we aren’t able to fund our most basic educational priority, teaching our children to read.

Chris Korsmo, left, is CEO of the League of Education Voters, a grass-roots citizens’ group whose mission is to improve public education. Mary Lindquist is president of the Washington Education Association, representing 82,000 teachers and educators.