Seattle Mayor Proposes Property Tax Levy To Fund Preschool For Low-Income Families

May 15, 2014

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has proposed a property tax levy to increase low-income children's access to preschool.

Murray is asking voters to approve a four-year, $58 million property tax hike to enroll 2,000 children in 100 classrooms by the year 2018. The plan would cost the average homeowner $43.36 per year, or $3.61 per month, the mayor said.

"I believe that giving all of our children a fair and equal chance to thrive in school, to live productive and prosperous lives, is, again, the most important thing I will ever do as mayor, and it's the most important thing my fellow council members will do as council members," Murray said during a Thursday press conference. 

Between 3,300 and 4,500 Seattle 3- and 4-year-olds do not attend formal child care or preschool, according to an estimate from the city, and low-income families were the least likely to enroll their children.

At $14.5 million annually, the plan Murray unveiled Thursday is a scaled-down version of the initial plan, which might have cost upwards of $30 to $70 million per year.

"We looked at those and said, 'In a perfect world, this would be magnificent,'" said Holly Miller, who leads Seattle's Office of Education. "But there's no way we have the capacity in our city, in terms of teaching staff or space... to accommodate that volume at this point."

The mayor's plan follows the Seattle City Council's September 2013 resolution, which called for the creation of a program to cover the cost of preschool for any family earning incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Families who earn at least 200 percent of the poverty line would be charged on a sliding scale.

But the mayor's proposal may have to share space on the November ballot with a competing proposal. A union-backed group has been collecting signatures for an initiative that would similarly create universal pre-K in Seattle, but would also require teachers in the program to be paid $15 an hour.

With the support of the American Federation of Teachers and SEIU, the group "Yes for Early Success" has already collected thousands of signatures toward its initiative. Though the group would likely need thousands more to ensure their proposal gets on the ballot, spokesperson Heather Weiner said, the group has been waiting for the mayor to release details of their plan before deciding whether they want to proceed.

"We don't think the mayor's plan is incompatible with our policy recommendations in our intiative," Weiner said, adding the group will take a "deeper look" at the policy.

Murray indicated his team tried to negotiate with Yes for Early Success, but could not reach an agreement with that group.

"My hope is that we can still reach an agreement and see how we can figure out how we work out some of the union's issues over time. But... I'm going to do what I think is best for this city and what the council thinks is best for this city. I'm not simply going to be leveraged based on people running to file initiatives," Murray said.

The union-backed plan also calls for an "enhanced training program" for pre-K teachers. Murray's plan includes professional development and coaching for teachers and instructional assistants.