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Seattle Voters Approve City-Backed Preschool Pilot; Hawaii Initiative Falls

Seattle voters, faced with two competing early-childhood initiatives, overwhelmingly approved a measure developed by the city council over a proposal that was backed by two unions that represent child-care workers.

Proposition 1B, which garnered 67 percent of the vote, levies a property tax on city homeowners "with the goal of developing a widely-available, affordable, licensed, and voluntary preschool option." The tax will raise about $58 million over four years.

The competing measure would have established a $15 minimum wage for child-care workers, and would have made it city policy that child care would be no more than 10 percent of a family's income, among other changes. SEIU 925 and the American Federation of Teacher-Washington placed the proposal on the ballot after talks broke down with city officials over these issues. 

"We had no idea we were going to win by this much," City Council President Tim Burgess told the Seattle Times. Burgess was one of the architects of the city's early-learning proposal. "It was a hard campaign, and you never know. But I think the voters of Seattle are really smart."

In Hawaii, voters turned down a constitutional amendment that would have made it possible for public funds to be used for preschool slots at private providers. The "no" votes were 52 percent, while 43 percent of voters were in favor of the amendment. Blank votes or spoiled votes counted against the amendment. 

Early-childhood advocates in the state supported the change, saying that a public-private partnership would allow the state to serve its more than 17,000 4-year-olds much more quickly. However, the Hawaii State Teachers Association argued against the initiative, saying the change would take money away from public schools. 

But that doesn't mean the union is against preschool, a union official told the Honululu Star-Advertiser. "Given the debate and media coverage of this issue, there can be no doubt that quality preschool for all children matters to us all," said union vice president Joan Lewis.

With the vote, Hawaii is the only state barred from entering into contracts with private providers for preschool. 

In Denver, voters approved a measure that would bump up the city's sales tax in order to continue the city's preschool program and expand it to the summer months. "Referred Question 2A" received 55 percent of the vote. 

The Denver Preschool Program, created in 2006, was funded by a sales tax that amounts to 12 cents per $100 in purchases and was set to expire in 2016. The approval of the ballot measure increases funding to 15 cents per $100 and extends the program through 2026. Since its inception, the preschool program served nearly 32,000 4-year-olds by providing tuition credits that can be used at more than 250 providers. The credits average $290 a month.

"I was really hopeful Denver voters would put their faith in us again," Jennifer Landrum, president and CEO of the preschool program, said in an interview with the Denver Post

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