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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 7 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 45
What the Seattle Preschool Program means for Gay parents
Section One
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What the Seattle Preschool Program means for Gay parents

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On November 4, Seattle voters selected the Seattle Preschool Program (Proposition 1B) crafted by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, the City Council, early learning experts, and a wide variety of local stakeholders. Tuesday's vote means Seattle will take its first step toward universal, voluntary, high-quality and affordable preschool for Seattle's children.

The levy will cost the owner of a Seattle home valued at $400,000 about $43 a year, according to the city.

'It is one of the best investments we can make,' Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess said.

Mayor Murray called the results a 'huge win for Seattle's kids and Seattle's future' and said the margin of victory surprised him.

Seattle Proposition No. 1B received a whopping 67 percent approval in the first-day vote count, while Seattle Proposition No. 1A, supported by a pair of labor unions and some childcare workers, fell far behind.

1B will authorize a $58 million property-tax levy to fund a four-year pilot program of preschool subsidized on a sliding scale, while setting academic standards and raising preschool teacher pay.

If selected, 1A would have established a $15 minimum wage for child-care workers, required training and certification via a public-private institute, and made it city policy that families should not spend more than 10 percent of their income on child care.

'It makes us a more equitable city,' said Murray. 'It's an opportunity to actually do something about the dramatic differences in education outcomes between children of color and Caucasian children, poor children and children who come from wealthier families.'

According to Council President Tim Burgess, the Seattle Preschool Program is based on extensive research on how to best prepare children for kindergarten and a life of learning. 'We reviewed the evidence of what works, we visited preschools throughout Seattle, we talked with teachers and parents, and we visited other cities to see how they provide universal preschool. At every step in development of the program, we were keenly committed to a critical principle: Quality.'

This commitment to quality, based on the research and modeled after other successful cities, is embedded throughout the various elements of the Seattle Preschool Program:

o A menu of play-based, research-based curricula proven to support age-appropriate learning;

o Compensation that honors preschool teachers by being in line with the pay of K-12 teachers;

o Tuition support for teachers to acquire early learning credentials that improve not only the quality of learning for the children but also career pathways for the teachers;

o Support for teachers including ongoing in-classroom coaching;

o Full day preschool (6 hours per day, 5 days a week) and wrap-around care;

o Classrooms with a teacher-to-child ratio of 1:10;

o Providers earning a good score from Washington's 'Early Achievers' quality rating and improvement system developed by the University of Washington;

o Program evaluations and feedback from kindergarten teachers to maintain high quality; and

o A sliding scale of tuition for parents to encourage economically mixed and culturally diverse classrooms which are best for all children.

Burgess says, 'Committing ourselves to quality not only promotes social justice for early learning, it delivers it. Only by doing what actually works can we close the achievement and opportunity gaps that have persistently and unfairly impacted our children of color.'

It is important to note that, as a voluntary program for both parents and providers, the Seattle Preschool Program does not divert funding away from existing programs for childcare or preschool. Nor does it require any space from the Seattle School District. The Seattle Preschool Program is an added investment that will benefit more children - up to 2,000 per year by the fourth year.

In order to maintain quality, Burgess said, 'We carefully ramp up the enrollment over time. Boston and other jurisdictions that have succeeded in providing quality, universal preschool advised us strongly to go slow to get it right.'

By Year 4, according to Burgess, the program will be providing quality preschool to about 25% of the three- and four-year-olds likely to enroll.

'This is a bold step for Seattle and I hope other local cities and counties will soon follow,' said Burgess. 'Put simply, the Seattle Preschool Program will provide our children with a strong and fair start.'

Burgess said he was 'stunned' by the vote count.

'We had no idea we were going to win by this much,' he said. 'It was a hard campaign and you never know. But I think the voters of Seattle are really smart.'

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