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The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

November 19, 2014 at 5:15 PM

Seattle Preschool Program won’t pay for transportation, could help school district with capital costs

Children learn how to cut  ingredients for lasagna at in a preschool classroom on Beacon Hill in Seattle. (Credit: Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

Children learn how to cut ingredients for lasagna at in a preschool classroom on Beacon Hill in Seattle. (Credit: Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

While Seattle’s new preschool program will seek to enroll children from different economic backgrounds in the same classrooms, it won’t bus children between neighborhoods to help achieve that mix, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Wednesday.

But the city is committed to helping Seattle Public Schools with capital costs should the district become a classroom provider for the program, the mayor said.

The pilot program that Seattle voters approved earlier this month, which will use a four-year, $58 million property-tax levy subsidize preschool on a sliding scale according to household income, will be “neighborhood based,” Murray said, speaking at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club.

“There is money for capital needs but there is not money for transportation,” Murray said during a news conference about next steps for the program.

Even without transportation, the program should be able to enroll children from wealthier and less-wealthy households in the same classrooms by working with preschool providers located in certain parts of the city, the mayor said.

“If you look at the demographics of the city … some of the more economically challenged neighborhoods are in the South End. The most diverse zip code in America is in the South End. Some of our wealthier neighborhoods are also in the South End,” Murray said.

“It’s also true in North Seattle, particularly in areas around Lake City, where you start to see some of that same diversity in demographics.”

The mayor said his new Office of Education and Early Learning will present the City Council with a detailed implementation plan by Feb. 23. He named Erin Okuno and Kevin Washington to co-chair a citizen advisory group that will help develop the plan.

Okuno is the executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, a group of community organizations that advocates for better schools. She previously worked with the Foundation for Early Learning.  Washington is a board member of Thrive By Five, a public-private partnership that works for early-childhood education. He is a citizen representative on the oversight committee for the city’s Families and Education Levy.  Neither of them have taught preschool.

Larry Nyland, interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, spoke alongside Murray and Council President Tim Burgess.

The preschool program’s action plan, which was prepared ahead of the election, says classrooms will be provided by both the school district and other providers. But Nyland said Wednesday it’s too early to know whether the school district will participate in that way. The district has limited options due to a lack of space, he said.

Described by Murray and Burgess as the first step toward universal preschool, the program will serve about 280 children to start and ramp up to about 2,000 by 2018. Its goal will be to help close the opportunity gap between white and non-white children, Murray said.

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