Let's finally close the harmful academic achievement gap
Tim Burgess served for 10 years at Seattle City Hall as a member of the City Council and as the city’s 55th Mayor. He was the primary architect of the Seattle Preschool Program.
Lauren Hipp is Senior Campaign Director at MomsRising, an organization where moms and the people who love them seek to change the world.
Seattle is poised to close the academic opportunity gap negatively impacting many of our children. And that would be cause for a joyous celebration, because it would help fulfill our belief that every child can learn and reach their full potential, regardless of their neighborhood, income, home language or color of their skin.
This harmful, long-present academic opportunity gap has denied many of our children what they need to thrive. The gap is crystal clear at the beginning of kindergarten when, through no fault of their own, more than half of our city’s children show up already behind. It’s clear when children in the third grade can’t read at grade level, a critical predictor of student success over the long-term. It’s clear when middle and high school kids lose interest, drop out, aren’t able to graduate.
Closing this gap is the right thing to do for our children and families and the right thing to do for the future of Seattle. Our long-term economic sustainability requires a growing and skilled work force, an imperative that is made more difficult when we don’t prepare all of our children for success.
Seattle voters have the chance in November’s election to take a bold step toward closing the academic opportunity gap by approving Proposition 1, the city government’s Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise Levy.
Passage of the levy will continue the expansion of the Seattle Preschool Program — rated one of the nation’s highest quality early learning efforts — so that 2,500 of our 3- and 4-year old children can be served annually. The most recent independent evaluation of the program found strong classroom and instructional quality that surpasses national Head Start, surpasses Washington State’s Early Achievers’ child care and preschool programs, and matches or beats what is seen in longer running and nationally recognized preschool programs in New York City, Boston, San Antonio, and New Jersey.
Providing high-quality preschool is a rock-solid, proven investment and Seattle has clearly demonstrated its ability to deliver. Our littlest learners, their families and the whole city will benefit as these children prepare to enter kindergarten and receive the strong and fair start they deserve. We’ve been in our preschool classrooms many, many times and we’ve seen first-hand that they’re working.
Passage of the levy will continue enhanced academic support for K-12 students requiring additional help through targeted math or literacy tutoring and crucial family support services. Because of the services this levy provides, Seattle middle schools lead the state in closing the academic opportunity gap. This levy provides the funds for highly personal, student-focused academic services that go way beyond what our public schools are able to provide. And, funding for these services is awarded through a rigorous process that sets specific, measurable outcomes. Few city government programs have this level of accountability.
Passage of the levy will continue the in-school health clinics in our city’s middle and high schools, establish four new clinics, one of which will especially serve LGBTQ youth, and continue mental health screenings in elementary schools. These clinics provide a full range of medical services, vaccinations, and mental health assessments. An independent assessment of the clinics showed that students who use these clinics have better school attendance and improved grade point averages compared to students who don’t. Providing in-school clinics is the right thing to do for student health and they boost academic achievement.
Passage of the levy also provides resources to support Seattle’s growing homeless student population — 4,280 students according to state officials in 2017-2018, which is eight times more students than recorded in 2010. It will also fund access to childcare for families experiencing homelessness.
Finally, passage of the levy will fund Seattle Promise, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan to provide two free years at Seattle Colleges for graduates of our public high schools. In the next five years, Washington state will add 750,000 new jobs, most of which will require a post-secondary degree or credential. Yet today, only 31 percent of Washington high school graduates pursue post-secondary credentials. Seattle Promise will help prepare our kids for the jobs of the future.
If approved by voters, the levy will replace two other city government education levies that expire in December and will raise $620 million over the next seven years. The yearly cost to the owner of a median assessed value home in Seattle will be $248, about $20 per month (just $9 per month more than the expiring levies). Since this calculation is based on a median valued home ($650,000), half of homeowners will pay more, half will pay less. Of course, commercial property owners will also pay if the levy is approved.
We urge you to vote to sustain these vital education investments by approving Proposition 1 and open the doors of opportunity for our children and families. It is an investment that will pay huge dividends as our children grow and become the leaders of our city. It is an investment that directly addresses the education inequities that have persisted for decades. It is an investment that strengthens our commitment to the importance of public education as the city government and Seattle Public Schools work collaboratively to prepare our children for their future and ours.
Get the latest in election news
In the weeks leading up to each election, this newsletter gives context on the races, candidates and more.
No — Seattle can come up with a better proposal
Melissa Westbrook is a public education advocate and writer/moderator of the Seattle Schools Community Forum.
I urge a no vote to the City of Seattle's 2018 Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy. This levy is a radical change from previous ones. With the larger property tax increase already enacted by the Legislature to fulfill the McCleary decision, I question the combination of a dollar increase and an expansion of the Families and Education levy.
And, Seattle Public Schools has its own two levy renewals in February 2019 and I believe that with those four large property taxes, there might be voter fatigue.
The new F&E levy will cost the median Seattle homeowner $248 each year, up from $136 a year under the two present levies
- About pre-kindergarten. I don't argue that pre-k isn't a good thing. But the City of Seattle was already funding pre-k in the Families and Education (F&E) levy prior to its separate preschool levy passed in 2014.
Now, between the current F&E levy and the pre-k levy, the city spends about $22 million on its pre-k program. But under the new, combined levy, the spending will be $53 million a year. That is nearly three times what is being spent now — but it won’t even double the number of spaces.
As well, Seattle is paying more for its pre-k than the gold-standard for pre-k, Boston, $12,000 per student versus $11,000. And, Boston supplements its funding with grants from both state and federal sources. The entire Seattle Pre-K budget is funded by the levy.
As well, the growth of pre-k is highly dependent on space. If the City has to pay for space, that will be a problem for growth. Where will that money come from?
- There is no language in the new Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy that says that the K-12 dollars can only go to Seattle Public Schools. Meaning, any charter school in Seattle could access those dollars.
Recall that in 2012 city of Seattle itself voted in — in a firm majority — against charter schools.
In the levy proposal, the mayor or city council could have put in explicit language protecting those K-12 dollars for Seattle School District but didn’t. The state recognizes charter schools as a different kind of public school and the city could have done the same to protect existing K-12 programs like summer school and after-school activities but didn’t.
Finally, please note that if the levy is defeated, the city can bring it back in April 2019. In the meantime, no programs would have to be affected as the current Families & Education levy has a $12 million underspend and the pre-k levy has a $1 million underspend — the amounts left over from the end of the two levies.
Voters need clarity, not confusion.