Preschool, especially for disadvantaged children, is a good idea. No one is arguing that point.
But if the City and the unions truly wanted voters to say yes, there would have been ONE proposition. They had the opportunity to work together but choose to walk away from the table. That should give you pause about both sides.
What the City and the unions have given us with these two propositions is confusion and division when what we need is clarity and unity.
It's not like the City doesn’t already invest in preschool - 26% of the Families & Education levy (about $61M) is dedicated to it. Seattle Schools has over 35 federal and state funded preschool classrooms right now.
Also, as to this "we have to do this now," well just like every other levy, it can be brought back very quickly to the ballot. It is not that the issue isn't urgent - it is - but it needs to be enacted in the most transparent and clear manner possible. Neither of those is present in either measure.
I say that because Seattle is a generous city when it comes to education voting. But we can’t just say “it’s for the kids” and just check "yes." For every measure that comes to the ballot, we need to consider ALL the citizens of our city. That means people like seniors on a fixed income and those in lower-income brackets.
In short, there is no “free” preschool – it is paid for with taxes.
My opposition – of both 1A and 1B – stems from two main issues:
- These are confusing and vague propositions.
- My work has been in K-12 public education and as someone who knows Seattle Schools very well, I believe this will hurt our school district.
As to the confusion over these two propositions.
Where is the money for 1A?
Who decides who gets into the schools run by 1B and what their programming will look like?
No one knows and yet those are just two of the vital questions left unanswered by these vague propositions. Why do we need to wait until AFTER one of them gets approved to find out?
Most importantly, there is this one central question:
1A is less about preschool and more about birth to age five caregivers having more oversight, better training and higher wages to create better conditions for children.
1B is about a structured preschool system throughout the city with oversight to ready 3-and 4-year olds for kindergarten.
Which will bring better outcomes for more of our littlest citizens and who really knows for certain? No one.
Then there is the partnering with SPS that 1B wants. Seattle Schools is THE linchpin to the City’s plan.
SPS has a severe space issue. The district has grown by 1,000 students a year for the last 3 years. The district installed 30 new portables just this summer. Many schools are looking to revamp all their space, even closets. There is literally no room at the inn.
I keep hearing, "The district doesn't have to do anything it doesn't want." Well, given the pressure that City officials (and likely others like people at the Gates Foundation) put on SPS staff just around the multi-city preschool trip, it's pretty unlikely that the City would take no for an answer.
From the City Council's resolution about partnering with SPS (bold mine):
Section 12. City of Seattle/Seattle School District No.1 Partnership Agreement. As the Seattle School participates in the Seattle Preschool Program, there shall be a Partnership Agreement(s) ("Partnership Agreement") developed by the City and the School District in which the roles and responsibilities of the City and the School District in implementing Preschool Services are established. The Partnership Agreement shall set forth the parties' roles and responsibilities for achieving the desired outcomes for Preschool Services. It shall outline how the City and the School District shall work collaboratively to the benefit of children in preschool. The Partnership Agreement shall cover items including, but not limited to, data sharing necessary to implement program evaluations and course corrections, standards for delivery of services, curriculum alignment and other proactive measures to ensure effective transitions from preschool to kindergarten and higher grades, and the sharing of facilities. The City cannot enter into the Partnership Agreement, or materially amend the Partnership Agreement, until the Partnership Agreement or the amendment, as the case may be, is approved by the City Council and the School District. Proceeds may be spent on School District programs or functions only in accordance with an effective Partnership Agreement.That seems pretty firm on what needs to happen (according to the City Council).
Additionally, the state mandate for SPS is K-12. As we all know from the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling, the Legislature isn’t even fully-funding K-12.
In fact, if 1B passes, the City’s preschools will fund a longer school day than the state-funded kindergartens in Seattle schools.
It’s hard to understand how the City can ask the district for space and resources that the district doesn’t have to give.
- 1A has set up professional training to be done by the unions. Is that truly the best way?
- 1A has good things to say about 1B but 1B could not be more dismissive. That may be politics but it does not bode well if 1A wins.
- While I believe there is money in the City's coffers for the work of 1A, I am troubled that it is not clear what is the mandate that must be funded if 1A wins. (But I also don't believe - for a minute - the scare tactics of 1B is saying police and fire services would have to be cut.)
- As well, the City Council has just taken on the work of being the Metropolitan District for the Parks. Does the City Council really have the ability to take on two major endeavors at the same time? Doesn't the City have a lot on its plate already? One word: Bertha.
- Is it developmentally appropriate for preschoolers to be in what the City Council commissioned report called a “6-hour academic day?” While there is research that supports academic gains with preschool, there is also research suggesting that low-income students in longer preschool days suffer negative social effects.
- Prop 1B is top-heavy with administrators. The salaries for the teachers would be between $30k-60K while administrative salaries range from $100K-$200K. I think the money should be in the classroom with the kids.
On this point, the 1B leaders push back against me every time. They claim that the BERK report, the consultant report on a preschool system run by the City, has those dollar amounts but that those amounts did not make it to the City's Action Plan. They say the City Council rejected them.
The Action Plan references the BERK report several times and in glowing terms. Nowhere is there a statement that says, "Not all recommendations of the BERK report were accepted by the City Council." When I have repeatedly asked for the date of the City Council meeting or committee meeting that this discussion took place and a vote was taken, I get crickets.
In short, there is no telling what will be implemented from the BERK report or not.
- The City seeks to create its own curriculum that would preclude already established programs like Montessori and Waldorf. There is no one-size-fits-all program for preschoolers and yet that is what the City would create.
Their campaign materials say:
It is a carefully crafted plan, built on the science of what works to prepare kids for kindergarten and a life of learning.
Again, the 1B campaign pushes back and says no, those types of programs could apply but would have to meet the City's curriculum. That's not going to happen.
- For oversight, all the City’s proposition does is add just four new members to the existing Families&Education committee. Is that enough for a new citywide program?
Some final thoughts:
Beyond having two confusing ballot measures, you also have a confusing voting process.
The vote is in two parts. You can answer NO to the first question of approving either measure and just stop there.
What is interesting is that even if you vote NO to the first question, you can hedge your bets and STILL vote for either one. In that case, I would vote for 1A because I believe it will reach the most low-income children and that’s what I want my tax dollars to do.
The main thing to remember is that You do NOT have to vote for either measure.
We are generous folks in this city – we fund parks, libraries and yes, schools. But we ARE already funding preschool services - to the tune of $61M via the Families and Education levy. Seattle Schools has many preschools right in their school buildings. No one can say that “nothing” is being done about preschool in Seattle. It’s just not true.
I urge you to consider voting NO to both measures and send the City and the unions back to the table for ONE authentic proposition.