I have been advocating for universal preschool for years, both here on HA, and more extensively at The Stranger. High quality early learning is the only education reform absolutely proven to work. And that is why I will be voting for Proposition 1B.
I’m not totally unsympathetic to the stated goals of the labor-backed Prop 1A, but to be clear, it does not implement preschool. It’s about raising the pay, training, and certification of childcare workers, and it sets a goal of reducing childcare costs to 10 percent of a family’s income. Which are good things. But it’s totally unfunded. And it does not create a single preschool classroom, let alone a high quality one.
Childcare and preschool are not the same thing.
Prop 1B, on the other hand, fully funds the gradual phase-in of citywide universal high quality preschool through a modest 11 cent per $1,000 of assessed value hike in the property tax—about $50 a year for the average homeowner. This evidenced-based program would ultimately be free to all three- and four-year-olds from families earning below 300 percent of the federal poverty line (currently $71,550 for a family of four), with generous sliding scale tuition subsidies for families earning more than that.
Yes, the implementation is a bit slower than a lot of people would like—the plan is to serve 2,000 children by 2018—but we have no choice but to implement slowly. Serving 2,000 students is the equivalent of creating five new elementary schools in a district that’s already struggling to meet capacity; we simply lack both the physical infrastructure and the number of trained and certified teachers sufficient to implement a high quality program overnight. And experiences in Boston and elsewhere teach us that implementing preschool right is more important than implementing it fast.
Furthermore, implementing a successful preschool program here in Seattle is the first step toward implementing high quality early learning statewide. If we do it right here, we’ll soon see similar programs in cities like Bellevue, Mercer Island, Shoreline, Renton, and Tacoma. Pretty soon voters throughout the state will demand the same opportunities for their children. Reject Prop 1B and you could set back Washington’s early learning agenda by a decade or more.
So yes, I am enthusiastically voting for Prop 1B, without reservations. Whatever the disappointing political machinations that led to this showdown, the clear choice on the ballot is between a measure that actually implements universal preschool, and a measure that doesn’t. I’m voting for the one that does. And so should you.