Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

This past Election Day, voters in Seattle got to choose between two different universal preschool proposals. They selected one backed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council.

“The effort began with a 2013 City Council resolution that charged the city’s Office of Education with developing a plan for building universal pre-K,” EdCentral, a New America Foundation blog, explains.

Of the two proposals, voters approved Proposition 1B, which authorizes “a $58 million property-tax levy to fund a four-year pilot program of preschool subsidized on a sliding scale, while setting academic standards and raising preschool teacher pay,” according to an article in the Seattle Times.

“Lattés cost more,” Mayor Murray said, according to public radio station KPLU, which reports, “Under the proposed four-year, $58 billion tax hike, Murray says the average Seattle homeowner would pay an extra $3.60 in property taxes each month to fund a pilot project serving 2,000 mostly low-income preschool-age kids.”

“The preschool program is designed to meet a wide achievement gap in the Seattle school system,” Seattle Pi, a Heart Newspapers website, reports. “Students in north end schools have higher text scores, higher math and reading skills, than south end schools with heavy populations of African-American, Hispanic, and immigrant children.”

“It makes us a more equitable city,” Murray said as stood outside a party on Capitol Hill, according to the Times. “It’s an opportunity to actually do something about the dramatic differences in education outcomes between children of color and Caucasian children, poor children and children who come from wealthier families.”

Tim Burgess, Seattle’s City Council president, issued a press release thanking voters for passing Proposition 1B.

“Seattle voters took a strong step toward universal, high-quality, voluntary and affordable preschool for our kids.

“The evidence is clear. High-quality preschool changes lives, and I believe it will change our city. Over the next four years, the Seattle Preschool Program will provide several thousand children with a strong and fair start. I’m very excited about what this program will mean for the littlest learners.”

The other proposal, which voters didn’t approve, was Proposition 1A. It would have “established a $15 minimum wage for child-care workers, required training and certification via a public-private institute, and made it city policy that families should not spend more than 10 percent of their income on child care,” the Times reports.

“‘The projected costs of Prop 1A have been 100 million bucks and that would have to come from services across the city police, fire, health and human services. It doesn’t help our city,’ said Bob Gilbertson of YMCA Greater Seattle,” according to the city’s KING 5 News.

Moving Forward

The next step for Seattle is to manage the challenges of implementing the program.

“One of the big issues we have to work on is how we handle it if we have more people applying than there is space,” Burgess told Seattle Weekly.

Seattle Weekly adds, “There will be room for just about 300 preschool students in September; the program will grow to 2,000 students in four years. Boston, which has a subsidized preschool program, uses a lottery, but Burgess says he wants to avoid that. The city has a lot of work to do over the next few months to figure it all out.”

In the EdCentral blog post, Conor Williams, a New America senior researcher, compares Seattle to two other cities that are expanding their preschool programs: New York and San Antonio.

“It’s pretty clear that Seattle’s program looks much more like San Antonio’s than New York’s. And that’s probably a good thing,” Williams says so that Seattle can start slow and proceed with caution.

Williams adds, “…it’s important to keep in mind that early education quality takes time, expertise, and serious effort. It’s easy to love the idea of high-quality pre-K. But, as an assistant director of one of San Antonio’s pre-K centers told me, ‘It’s not easy to get this right at the beginning—especially when we’re growing it so fast.’”