Voters to see multiple preschool funding options on ballot

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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Quick Facts: 

  • Universal preschool plan sent to voters in November.
  • Plan would raise Seattle property taxes $55 per year on a $500,000 property.
  • Seperate group supported by teacher's union filing seperate initiative.
  • Mayor Ed Murray said universal preschool will affect public safety down the road.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed an ordinance Friday effectively sends a universal preschool plan to voters on the November ballot. It will be one of two initiatives on the same topic.

Both ideas are meant to address the growing cost and inaccessibility of quality preschool education in Seattle. Supporters argue preschool is essential, particularly for lower-income children to be better prepared for school and to stay out of crime.

“Universal pre-K is one of the areas we affect public safety. We may not see the results of that in the next few years, but we will see the results in the next generation,” Murray said.

Murray’s plan to raise property taxes to pay for subsidized preschool was amended slightly by the Seattle City Council. The plan now allows families making up to 300 percent of poverty level to send their 3- and 4-year-old children to preschool for free.

The tuition would be on a sliding scale. Families of four making up to $70,000 would qualify for free tuition, while a similar family making $120,000 would pay about half the cost of preschool, which is $4,500 a year.

A family making $185,000 or higher would pay 95 percent of tuition cost. The full cost is $10,700 per student for a 180-day school year, covering six hours a day.

The plan would raise taxes by 11 cents for every $1,000 of assessed home value. The owner of a $500,000 house, for example, would pay $55 more per year.

At the same time, a citizens’ group called Yes for Early Success, supported by multiple teachers’ unions, has filed a separate plan, Initiative 107.

Heather Weiner, the group’s spokesperson, said, “It emphasizes enhanced training for 4,500 teachers and it's trying to increase the quality of care of children under the age of 5.”

The proposal also aims to have no family pay more than 10 percent of its income on child care. It raises teacher wages in January 2015 to a minimum of $11 an hour at small child care centers and $15 an hour at centers with more than 250 employees.

After signing the city’s preschool ordinance Friday, Murray said he could not support the wages set in Initiative 107 because “I'm not willing to break a pledge I made to how we're going to phase in $15. And this would create a carve out.”

While the city’s plan outlines a funding strategy to raise $58 million over four years, Initiative 107 does not specify a funding plan.

Weiner said the purpose is to have the mayor sit down with educators to come up with a budget and funding source.

“Right now we don't really have a problem with what the mayor is trying to do, we have a problem with how they're doing it,” Weiner said.

The group also filed an ethics complaint against city hall on Monday, alleging tax dollars were being used in campaigning against Initiative 107.

Murray said he was simply asking his budget office to evaluate and inform council members how much the rival initiative would cost.

“If I can't ask questions like that on something that could become the law of the city, then basically I guess I'm a figurehead and not a mayor,” Murray said.

Murray emphasized that if a preschool plan does not pass this year, he will try again.

The city has not yet figured out exactly what happens if both initiatives pass in November.

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