Mayor Murray was joined by Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess and members of the education community this morning to announce their proposal for expanding access to high-quality early learning throughout the city.
“At a time when disparities in education reinforce the widening gap between those who fill the high-wage jobs of the future and those who struggle to make ends meet, one of the most important questions we face as a society is: what can we do to build a school system that works equally and fairly for all of our children,” said Murray. “The answer starts long before our children show up for their first day of kindergarten.”
“High quality preschool is proven to be a game-changer that prepares our children for success in school and in life. Preschool will boost not only the children but also our city with a stronger workforce and safer neighborhoods,” said Burgess. “The evidence already shows us what to do; we just need to muster the will to do it.”
The proposed Action Plan calls for a four-year property tax levy, raising $14.5 million annually to fund a demonstration program to begin closing the preparedness gap for Seattle’s three and four year olds. The cost to the average homeowner in Seattle will be approximately $3.50 per month – about the cost of a latte – over the next four years. The Seattle Preschool Program will be voluntary for providers and participants and will build toward serving 2,000 children in 100 classrooms by 2018.
The Action plan is anchored in evidence-based practice, acknowledging that program quality is vital to success and will be provided through a mixed-delivery system, with classrooms offered by Seattle Public Schools and community providers. The program will have the ultimate goal of serving all eligible and interested 4-year-olds and all 3-year-olds from families making less than 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level in Seattle. Tuition will be free for children from families earning less than the 200 percent of the federal poverty level, while tuition for families earning more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level will be offered on a sliding schedule with some level of subsidy for all families.
“High-quality preschool for all children will change life outcomes for our youngest learners,” said Jose Banda, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. “We all want each of our kindergartners to walk through the door on the first day of school – bright eyed, backpacks on – with the confidence that they are ready for school. We look forward to working together in a meaningful partnership with the City of Seattle to create the implementation plan that will change the trajectory of our children’s lives.”
“We at the state level are so happy that the City of Seattle is prioritizing its youngest learners,” said Washington State Department of Early Learning Director Bette Hyde. “What is particularly exciting about Seattle’s preschool initiative is that it aligns with the statewide system of high-quality early learning we are building. By using the same definition of quality, we are all measuring and encouraging high-quality programs in a consistent way. This is good for kids, families and early learning professionals.”
“The foundation of a strong middle class, a thriving economy, a prepared military and a well-educated workforce depend on our youngest learners getting a strong start in life,” said Representative Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle. “Research tells us that universal, high-quality preschool puts our youth on a path to success. I look forward to working with my colleagues here in the city of Seattle and the state legislature to increase the quality of early learning, and expand its availability and affordability to all our children.”
The Seattle Preschool Program proposal is built on the high-quality parameters of the BERK recommendations and the work of the City Council.
The Seattle City Council has studied voluntary preschool programs since June 2013 and in September 2013, unanimously adopted Resolution 31478, which establishes the City Council’s goal of making voluntary high-quality preschool available and affordable to all of Seattle’s children and outlining an initial plan toward achieving this goal.
Seattle City Council Select Committee on Preschool will review the Action Plan and take action to place the proposal on the November General Election ballot by August 5.
Press conference video: