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June 23, 2014 at 3:52 PM

Seattle preschool plan headed for November ballot

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to place a $58 million property-tax levy on the November ballot to boost the quality and affordability of preschool in Seattle.

The measure would cost the owner of a Seattle home valued at $400,000 about $43 a year, according to the city.

The money would go to qualified preschool providers to provide free or subsidized slots to families based on income. Proceeds from the four-year levy also would help improve the quality of existing preschool operators  through coaching, training and tuition help for teachers to obtain further education and credentials.

The measure would fund voluntary preschool for 2,000 children ages 3 and 4 in 100 classrooms by 2018.

An alternative initiative, backed by two unions seeking higher wages for child care workers, will also appear on the ballot. Voters can approve one or the other, but not both, the council decided on Monday.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925 and the American Federation of Teachers-Washington (AFT) led the signature-gathering effort, collecting almost 22,000 signatures.

If approved, the unions’ Initiative 107 would set city policy on how much parents should pay and how much child-care workers should earn, but it doesn’t specify how the city would pay for that policy.

At Mayor Ed Murray’s request, the Seattle City Council delayed a scheduled vote last week so the city could put a price tag on the alternative plan. The mayor’s office estimates I-107 would cost the city up to $141 million to get it off the ground and as much as $108 million to sustain it.

Supporters of I-107 hoped the two measures would be placed on the ballot separately, allowing for the chance that voters could approve both.

In a press release Monday morning, Karen Hart, president of SEIU 925, said: “We’re urging the City Council to avoid playing politics with Seattle’s children, and allow voters to choose both I-107 and the City’s levy proposal, not force voters to choose one over the other.”

Council president Tim Burgess argued that the unions’ proposal contradicts the city’s plan, specifically in areas that directly affect quality, such as teacher training and credentials.

The union-backed initiative would require child-care teachers and staff to obtain training and certification through a “Professional Development Institute” jointly operated by the city and a single provider hired by the city.

The provision doesn’t explicitly say the provider for that institute has to be a union, but it leaves little doubt about who could fit the bill. For example, the provider must have successfully negotiated a contract with the state, city or government agency “on behalf of child care teachers and staff, which has increased wages and benefits.”

Murray also said he was concerned that I-107 would jeopardize the minimum wage agreement that the city worked out with business and labor groups earlier this month. While 107 also would establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage for child-care workers, it calls for delivering it on a faster schedule with different definitions of what constitutes a small business.

Monday’s vote culminated about a year of work on the idea, which began with a review of evidence from other cities and states such as Boston, New Jersey and Oklahoma that high quality preschool improves kindergarten readiness and pays off later, with fewer dropouts and teen pregnancies and less crime.

The city’s preschool plan would cover the entire tuition — estimated at almost $11,000 a year per child — for families making up to three times the federal poverty level (for a family of four, that would amount to $71,550 a year). Families making more would pay a share of the cost determined on a sliding scale.












Comments | Topics: Seattle City Council, universal preschool


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