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Two Preschool Ballot Initiatives Battle it Out in Seattle

Seattle voters face two preschool initiatives on the Nov. 4 ballot. ¬†And there will be no voting for both—voters must choose one or the other or neither.

Since both propositions are on the same ballot line, voters will first be asked if either preschool measure should be voted into law. Voters who are in favor of a preschool measure will then be prompted choose Proposition 1A or Proposition 1B. Fifty percent of voters must vote 'yes,' on the first question to make the second question matter.

According to the King County Elections website, Proposition 1A would "establish a $15 minimum wage for childcare workers..., seek to reduce childcare costs to 10 percent or less of family income..., (and) require enhanced training and certification through a training institute," among other new requirements aimed at improving the existing child-care system. No new funding source is identified that would pay for this proposition, which is supported by two unions that represent 1,500 child-care workers: SEIU 925 and the American Federation of Teachers-Washington.

Proposition 1B would "fund the four-year initial phase of a City early-learning program with the goal of developing a widely-available, affordable, licensed, and voluntary preschool option." A property tax of 11 cents per $1,000 in assessed value would raise $58.3 million over four years to support the measure, according to the King County Elections website. The Seattle City Council and mayor put this proposition on the ballot after talks about a compromise with SEIU 925 and the American Federation of Teacher-Washington broke down.

Washington state served 8 percent of its 4-year-olds and 1 percent of its 3-year-olds in state-funded preschool programs in 2013, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). While the state's program meets nine out of 10 of NIEER's quality benchmarks—like having established preschool learning standards and requiring teachers to have specialized training—it's ranked 32 for 4-year-old preschool access among the 40 states and the District of Columbia that provide public preschool.

Washington state has been adding preschool slots steadily since 2011 and has plans to continue the expansion of services, but as The Seattle Times' Linda Shaw points out, either of the new initiatives would move Washington's largest city toward universal preschool services much faster than the state at large.

Meghan Poree, a Seattle mother of three, told The Seattle Times' Daniel Beekman, that she wishes she could vote for both proposals.

Forced to take unpaid maternity leave when her daughter was born, Poree lost the state child-care subsidy she had been using to pay her son's preschool fees. Poree told Beekman she had to dig into her savings to cover the $552 a month she suddenly owed in fees.

"I think preschool should be treated like regular school," she told Beekman. "It should be free."

Neither of the measures on Seattle's ballot this fall will make preschool entirely free for everybody, but they would take big steps towards making it more affordable for many. It just remains to be seen if Seattle voters will take the time to decide what they think about each of the proposals or if they'll just throw up their hands at the complexity of selecting one or the other and nix both.

P.S. Mad props to Michael Mott for his awesome graphic using NIEER data to show how statewide investments in public preschool have changed over time from 2003 until 2013. Mott's interactive graphic illustrated Shaw's September article about the two Seattle ballot propositions.

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