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Details Emerge on Seattle's Planned Public Preschool Program

CORRECTION:

Unlike New York City, which added a majority of its new preschool spots in one year, Seattle plans to introduce its universal public preschool program slowly.

Approved by voters in November, the plan for Seattle's public preschool program was formally introduced to city council members on Wednesday. The plan allocates the $58 million property tax levy voters agreed on to fund universal preschool, establishes program policies, and lays out the criteria on which the program will be judged.

Fourteen new classrooms are expected to open in the 2015-16 school year, ramping up to 100 classrooms in the 2018-19 school year.

Seattle Public Preschool "will ensure that quality is prioritized over quantity. In other words, the pace of growth will be dictated by the number of providers meeting threshold standards for quality," the plan reads.

Right now, quality appears to be running ahead of quantity. The city has identified 37 early-childhood centers that meet its standards, though fewer than half of those will open as "Seattle Public Preschool" programs next fall.

The plan calls for lead teachers who meet the education and certification requirements to be paid on par with K-12 teachers. Assistant teachers and others with lesser qualifications will be paid less. Ongoing professional development is meant to be part of the program. 

Three- and 4-year-old children from families earning at or below $72,750 for a family of four, the equivalent of 300 percent of the federal poverty level, will receive free tuition. Tuition will be assessed on a sliding scale for 4-year-old children from families earning more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Families earning above 760 percent of the Federal Poverty Level will be limited to a 5 percent tuition credit per child. The program won't be closed to anyone based on income.

Read the whole plan.

New York City's program is also universal, but has moved much faster. The city opened about 33,000 new preschool seats in one school year, adding to its 20,000 existing seats for a grand total of about 53,000 public preschool seats for the 2014-15 school year.*

*Correction: An earlier version of this article implied the New York City Department of Education had added 50,000 new preschool seats in one year.

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