In Signing Pre-K Bill, Seattle Mayor Makes Early Ed Ballot Showdown Official

Jun 27, 2014

The idea of pitting two questions about early childhood education against each other on the November ballot doesn't appeal to Laura Chandler.

"I don't like it, I wish it wasn't like that," said Chandler, a teacher at Small Faces Child Development Center. She supports a union-backed initiative to create a broader training program and raise wages for childcare workers.

But Sattl1e Mayor Ed Murray officially sent a second question to the ballot Friday, signing off on the Seattle City Council's plan asking for voters' approval of a $58 million property tax hike to pay for low- and middle-income kids to attend preschool.

The Seattle City Council ruled the two ballot measures conflict. That means voters will only be able to approve one of the two measures, and could reject them both.

"It's the only strategy we have," Murray said after signing the plan, adding later, "We negotiated in good faith with [childcare initiative supporter] SEIU 925, thought we were close to an agreement. They chose to file the signatures. I thought that was unfortunate."

Chandler supported the childcare measure, formally called Initiative 107. But like many I-107 backers, she had hoped the city would give voters the opportunity to vote for both. Instead, she'll have to vote against city leaders' Preschool for All plan.

"The preschool for all program is not for all. It's quite small," Chandler said after the council's vote on Monday. "We've proposed something that's going to help all families involved in childcare beyond preschool."

Chandler supported the childcare measure, formally called Initiative 107. But like many I-107 backers, she had hoped the city would give voters the opportunity to vote for both. Instead, she'll have to vote against city leaders' "Preschool for All" plan.

"The preschool for all program is not for all. It's quite small," Chandler said after the Council's vote on Monday. "We've proposed something that's going to help all families involved in childcare beyond preschool."

Murray and council president Tim Burgess favor a "high quality" pilot program for, at most, 2,000 kids that would allow families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level to send their 3- or 4-year-olds to preschool at no cost. Families earning more would pay on a sliding scale.

I-107 involves no tax increase or program slots, but would create a training program for early childhood educators and set goals to minimize the amount Seattle families would pay for child care — not only for 3- and 4-year-olds.

"Kindergarten readiness is something that starts with birth, it starts with their parents. It's not something you just jump in and do something with when they're 4," Chandler said.

Murray says he cannot support I-107 because it would immediately raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for the city's 4,500 child care workers.

"I think they've raised some important issues in their initiative," Murray said of I-107 supporters. "But I'm not willing to break a pledge I made around how we were going to phase in [a minimum wage increase], and this would create a carve-out. I think it would be justified on the part of business to turn around and say I tried them if I turned around and supported a carve-out of $15 for one group of employees on Jan. 1."

But the mayor said even if voters reject his plan in November, he would work to put it on the ballot again.

"If it takes more than one year, we'll take more than one year," Murray said.