Seattle Prop 1: Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy

Here's my op-ed at Crosscut along with the pro side.

I'm putting both in because I'm a fair person AND because I want you read the detail in my side versus the pro side.

Because, yes, the devil is in the details.

I watched the Seattle Channel panel on the various ballot issues including Prop 1.  Two panelists think it will pass, mostly because it's "an established levy" but Joel Connelly of the PI says that when Mayor Durkin was running she said she would have "mercy" and there would be no doubling of levies except for mental health issues.  So much for that campaign promise here.

Vote NO on Prop 1.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for writing this up. One question - how did you get $12,000/year for preschool? That actually seems really reasonable, but when I do the math I get $19,000-$30,000 depending on how quickly they add students.

At $12,000/kid the initiative seems worth supporting. At $19,000-$30,000, the initiative feels extremely overpriced especially since it's still unclear as to whether they have actually added many seats or mostly converted already existing seats to subsidized seats and where the value is - is it in the subsidy? the training? the curriculum? the hours? (especially since they've reduced the curriculum and hours requirements for certain sites) AND that those fees really don't include the cost of space in SPS facilities (especially important since BEX suggests we need quite a bit more space which is $$$$$)...there have to be much less expensive preschool alternatives that could expand service to way more of the estimated 12,000 preschool aged kids than this initiative.

NE Mom
Anonymous said…
Melissa, where did you get that $12,000 figure? If it came from the city, they seem to be doing some creative math.

Even if the program were to serve its Year 7 target of 2500 kids/yr in Year 1 (which it won’t, since they’re at about 1200 now), 7 yrs of 2500 kids is 17,500 kid-years. Diving the total cost of $342 million by that is over $19,000 per kid-year. Way higher.

I also assume kids can be in the program for two years, is that right? If so, the total number of unique kids served will be lower. If MOST kids attend two years, that could be more like $35,00O per child.

Doesn’t Compute

Anonymous said…

It seems like one of the numbers in your Crosscut article may be a typo:

"As well, Seattle is paying more for its pre-k than the gold-standard for pre-k, Boston, $12,000 per student versus $11,000."

A $1000 difference does not seem that significant. Maybe $12,000 should be $30,000 or so?


Anonymous said…
100 bucks a year on average, and it will also provide free community college to grads in addition to the vital pre-school program, which is the ONLY way to fix the achievement problem.

Plus, you act like this is all willy-nilly seat of the pants guesswork, when, in fact, the program is being rigorously examined by a team at Rutgers from the NIEER, National Institute for early Education Research. The report, if you care read it, shows outstanding results far above Head Start and other programs.

It's a trial program, the permanent program will find savings. I've seen criticism since it's inception on this bog and it always sounded strange that an education blog is against,well, education. It may be pricey to find out what works, but if you think your money is being squandered, take the time to read the detailed report and then decide.

Don't take Melissa's word for it. Read it yourself.


Eric B said…
I know this is a relatively small part of the levy, but I'm compelled to vote for it given support for student health programs at high schools. At Ingraham, this funds a mental health professional and an extra nurse.

I'm not super-happy with the cost of the preschool program, but I'm not willing to say no to student health centers in high schools.
I got both the Seattle $12K figure and the Boston $11K figure directly from the media people when I queried them. Of course, the figures are higher as I'm sure those don't include other costs. In fact, in previous threads on this topic, I linked to the Crosscut article by a UW education grad student, Shelby Parsons, and her research says it more like $23K.

SPS Mom, maybe $1k per kid doesn't sound significant but Boston is the gold standard so if they can do it cheaper, can't Seattle? Also, Boston supplements their dollars with state and federal grants. In Seattle, it's all on Seattle taxpayers. They don't have a single non-Head Start grant.

Pretzel, what is "$100 bucks a year?" You mean how much per month? Oddly, it's about $136 more a month for the City's levy but they say it's $9 a month. Hmm.

You are mistaken that pre-k is the only way to fix the achievement problem. How do I know this? Well, adult logic for one. There simply can't be just "one" way. As well, I tutor in a Title One kindergarten class and the kids coming from public pre-k aren't doing better than other kids. And then there is home environment which IS the one way (if just one existed) that would change things for those kids.

If the permanent program was going to find savings, explain how they will spend 3X more and only double the spaces.

Also, Pretzel, I'm a grown-up and when people throw the "it's for the kids!" thinking my way, it makes me suspicious. Every single voter gets to examine every single levy - new or renewal - and ask questions. Even for an education levy.

Eric, I can respect your thought except that when charter schools start cutting into those K-12 dollars, taking away that nurse, then you may regret that vote. And that absolutely will happen, given how the levy was written and the non-responses from City Hall.
Tapped Out said…
The city is nearly tripling the Family and Education levy. They have gotten into the habit of increasing their levy funding to half billion to nearly one billion dollars. No problem.

Property taxes have gone-up 50% within the last two years. Seattle Public School's levy will be asking for $140M more than the state allows. I fully expect the state to pick-up $60M for special education students.

The district's capital levy will be .16 over current levy which is about $106 per household.

WEA tried to blow-up the state funding formula. WEA will probably push the legislature to increase the levy cap. This will create inequities throughout the state and set us up for McCleary 2.

SEA will open-up their contract negotiations next year. Where will the funds come from to pay for their demands. Any chance SEA will swipe special education dollars because those dollars come from the state?

At what point are people getting pushed out of their homes?
Seattle Channel said…
I watched the Seattle Channel. One panelist was worried about increasing rents. We can't ignore that increasing rents lead to homelessness.

One could argue that homelessness would put a child at even a greater risk.
Anonymous said…
Simple math says the $12k figure is wrong, so continuing to repeat it in the media doesn't seem right. The "media people" are either playing us for fools (if it's the city's media people), or are being fooled themselves (it you're talking about other media people who continue to spread this figure.

$12k per student x (unrealistically high) 2500 students x 7 years = $210 million. Yet they want $342 million for this program.

If they average 2000 students per year over this 7-year period--still optimistic but a little more realistic since they had trouble ramping up originally, and are currently at 1200 students--that's $12 x 2000 x 7 = $168 million. Less than half the "ask."

So either they are asking for more than double what they plan to spend on the program, or the cost per child is way higher than they care to admit.

If they're leaving the administrative costs out of that calculation, shame on them--for misleading people, and for spending half the money on administration!

I don't see how anyone can claim that Seattle is doing this cheaply.

Doesn't compute
Anonymous said…
Or if we actually wanted to make progress towards closing the achievement gap, we could teach of hoping kids catch on and really leaving it up to families to fill in the gap. Bonus, this should basically be free - it doesn’t require different teachers or more curriculum (aside from changing curriculum once), it just requires doing something different. . I say make progress towards very specifically because I don’t think that we can expect schools, no matter how early we start kids, to whole make up for the lost language experiences that happen at home (on average) in upper income households.

I haven’t done the research, but my volunteering in the classroom makes me think the same thing is happening there.

NE Parent
Anonymous said…
Not meaning disrespect, but have you read the evaluation by the NIEER team? I'd be interested in some actual critique of their work rather than anecdotes, although it is a pretty tough read for the layperson.

I also agree with Eric B. about the staff reductions that will occur in vital areas like mental health.

As far as homelessness, rents are a driving factor, but it goes much, much deeper into the structured income disparity in the region and the rampant drug and mental health problems.

I would love to see Amazon and Boeing pick up the tab out of their billions in profits, but they have the clout and the corporate requirement to fight any attempt to have them contribute as we saw with head tax fiasco.

Don't make students suffer because the rich want more. Help the poor and change the structure that rewards greed and exploitation. You do know where Boeing gets most of it's profit? Weapons. Amazon is also in the weapons business.

As far as the SEA demands, I can't imagine the day teachers are compensated appropriately. My kids' teachers have been stellar and the schools are safe.

SPS has problems, but what happened to the students in Issaquah is way beyond what I've ever heard about in SPS. Slut shaming by coaches and students on school property, explosives thrown at the students' home. If that happened in SPS there would be hell to pay. So let's give the district some credit for not being as bad as Issaquah.

Please read up on Prop 1 before deciding, I think everything in public policy could be better, but there is more good in this proposal than harm.

Thanks for the great forum, civil dialogue is so important these days.

Anonymous said…
@ pretzel, yes, I checked out the evaluation. They looked at quality--which was mediocre. There was also some indication of quality disparities by race. They also didn't look at cost-effectiveness, which is primarily what we're discussing here.

No respect, but can you show me how I may be wrong in my concerns that (a) the price is much, much higher than advertised, and (b) the results are "outstanding." Maybe point to specific pages of the evaluation that address these? Thanks!

Doesn't Compute
Seattle Channel. said…
There are plenty of people without addictions and mental health issues that can no longer afford Seattle's rents and cost of living.

Certain communities of color are leaving Seattle and heading south. Isn't Seattle's free and reduced lunch population decreasing?

I look forward to guarantees that Seattle's prek program can be offered between $12K-$13K. Pretzel, the ball is in your court.
Eric B said…
Melissa, I respect and share your disapproval of charter schools in general. When we're talking about universal physical, reproductive, and mental health care, I'm a lot less concerned about what kind of school building the students are in.

Yes, it's possible that the city will try to rob those health services from SPS high schools to pay for some other services at charter schools. I wish them luck with the public outcry if they do.
Anonymous said…
If you can find Table 6 of the 2018 report it shows Seattle's program ranking higher than the other districts studied; NYC, San Antonio, Tulsa and Boston,as well as Head Start.

Beat them all. I really am not able to explain the entire study, and it does not address cost, but if there is some data in the evaluation that is negative, please show us. I could not find it.

Where's your alternative? I can't see just shutting down a program with such strong results. Let's look for ways to make it more cost effective, but I'm not for throwing out the baby with bathwater.

Page 5 said…
"SPP quality has continued to improve on two separate measures, the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale—Third edition (ECERS-3) and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). The average ECERS-3 score increased from 3.89 to 3.99 (on a 7-point scale) (p.14). CLASS scores also increased, with a particularly large gain for instructional supports that are important for building academic success, moving from 3.06 to 3.42 (also on a 7-point scale) (p.15). "

At a cost of $23K-$30K per child, the results don't look that great.
Another Option said…

In 2016, with $4M, SPS served 400 prek students. The city contributed $27K.

73% of the students received medical exams. 88% of the students received dental exams. Four year old children made SIGIFICANT gains in math, literacy, language, fine motor skills and more. Students progressed into 82-93 percent- up from 20-50%
Anonymous said…
I keep hearing 32k per kid, perhaps a link, please. What does San Antonio cost? What about NYC and what are the percentages of non-English speakers compared to Seattle? We have many languages here don't forget.

The implication is we're paying three times the going rate but where is the money going? NYC is not a cheap place either and they only spend 11k?

Melissa says we spend 12k. What gives?

Confused Chinchilla

Carol Simmons said…
Pre-K is certainly important but it is not the only way to solve/fix the disproportionality achievement gap. The Disproportionality Task Force Recommendations list many ways to do this. The first Task Force was formed in the eighties, and the recommendations continue to be relevant today. Most of these recommendations were never implemented in the schools. Finally, the District is implementing some of the recommendations. If they continue to do this, we will see a reduction in disproportionality, not only in academic achievement but in suspensions, expulsions, drop out rate, placement in special programs and discipline sanctions. These recommendations do not have big price tags, only the will to implement them.
Anonymous said…
The preschool levy (using statistics in this article: at $341M will cost $19,500/year per kid if they had all 2,500 slots filled for all 7 years. Since they have 1,200-1,500 this year (unclear from reports) and didn't hit their target last round, that seems wildly unlikely. If you estimate an average of 2,000 kids enrolled per year, the levy would effectively cost $24,300/kid/year. Now note, that's only if there are no tuition paying students. Any tuition families pay effectively adds to the total dollars being spent.

Is it worth it? Well, it's hard to say. The report suggests that there are some areas where they are reaching some higher quality metrics though the gains appear very modest. I would like to see solid data about how many preschool seats have actually been added. Most appear to simply be converted from existing programs making this more of a subsidy with a LOT of overhead vs something that is really going to be able to expand and scale to more of Seattle's ~12,000 3 and 4 year old preschoolers. I'd also like to see more options with wrap around care and summer programming.

NE Mom
Anonymous said…
@ pretzel, if you couldn’t find any negative data in the evaluation, you weren’t looking very hard. How about the ECERs data, for one? A score of 3 means “minimally acceptable quality.” Five is good, 7 is “high quality.” Our average in the high 3s doesn’t look so great in that context. Comparing it to other cities with similarly poor results doesn’t impress me.

Or how about the data showing that white kids tend to get higher quality preschool than black kids? That seems pretty negative to me.

One other point to keep in mind—to the evaluators, the city is their client. As they point out early in the report, ongoing evaluation is one of the three key components of the program. That’s a lot of future business, so its not surprising the evaluation report focuses on the positives. But there are plenty of negatives in there for those who look, too.

And the cost.


Excellent points, Carol. There is no one way to better outcomes for kids.

NE Mom, also good points. I do want to add that yes, the Department of Education will greatly expand and I'm not sure - with all the problems the city needs to get done (and hasn't) - that this department should get larger.

I think the city is laying the groundwork - along with the Times - to someday take over the schools.

What one review of the program said is that it is in the solid middle for city pre-k programs. Good in places, mediocre in others. The cost of the evaluation - every year - is $475k.
Anonymous said…
“We recommend that the Seattle Preschool Program builds on its success by focusing further improvement efforts in the quality of instruction with particular attention to language and literacy, integration of content across domains in children’s activities, and supports for sustained, reflective thinking as well as personal care routines that contribute to health.”

So the researchers’ recommendation is to focus on improving the quality of the program, and the city’s response is to jump straight to a huge expansion. How is this wise? If the classrooms they currently have still need work, why are they not continuing to improve and refine the current program before scaling up? I don’t see the benefit in rolling out a bigger but still mediocre program rather than continuing to figure out best practices for another couple years.

Also, I tried to post a couple times on a previous thread but it never came through, but I just don’t trust the people administering this program. My child’s previous daycare converted one of its pre-K classrooms to be part of SPP (jumping through all sorts of hoops to do it). The center lost its lease and the director and her team worked incredibly hard to find a new location. The first one fell through because the space ended up not being able to support the build-out requirements. They found another space. Tried for MONTHS to get permits. Unfortunately, they still had no timeline by the time they had to vacate so ended up closing. Where was the city in all of this? Well, completely absent. From what I heard (as a parent whose child wasn’t in the SPP program), the city gave lip service to helping but when it actually came to doing anything to get the center in a new space, was totally unresponsive. If they couldn’t figure out how to assist an established, high-quality center in relocating, how am I supposed to believe they are capable of opening and administering a couple dozen more sites?

If this measure fails and they bring back a continuation (but not expansion) of the current program WITHOUT the college piece, I’d support it. But before the program grows, I want to see a couple more years of continuous improvement and evidence that the city can actually run it effectively.

Anonymous said…
I would urge voters to google ECERS and see for themselves what it's all about and if the researchers are just trying create future business.

Whatever you feel, please vote. Elections matter and the hate that is rising in America will surely arrive here eventually. When one group is persecuted, we all suffer.

Here are some other reviews of the program; this link below is from Seattle City Council Insight and their story, "How is the Seattle Preschool Program Doing? It includes a link to KUOW's story, "Seattle's Publicly Funded Pre-school Program Not Hitting Education Goals."

It is quite long and in-depth; the main takeaway I see is:

"The big insight here is that The Seattle Preschool Program’s ECERS-3 and CLASS assessments are on par with peer programs — including the low ratings for personal care routines, learning activities and instructional support. That speaks more to the challenges of implementing those aspects of preschool programs than of particular successes or failures in Seattle; all preschools struggle with the same issues. On the flip side, Seattle’s program strengths don’t particularly distinguish it from its peers either, although it seems to be off to a stronger start for interaction and program structure. The Seattle Preschool Program is squarely in the middle of the pack."

I think the results can be viewed many ways; SCC blog supports the levy.
Anonymous said…
I have heard some comments by by neighbors as well as read some recent comments on the capitol hill blog.

WOW! There are many people who:
1. Don't realize the Mayor's Families & Education levy is separate from the two school K-12 levies that will be up for renewal in Feb!!

2. Don't understand why their property taxes have doubled, McCleary funded yet Seattle is in the hole and worse off due to the new levy cap.

We are in major trouble. Many people just are not following local news and issues closely and IMO people are just bombarded by national political news. Please talk to your neighbors!!

I have major concerns the school levies in Feb are endangered.

Read comments section...for example:

"AtmIsEmpty on Thursday, October 25, 2018 - 7:07 am said:
$9 a month x 2-3 levies a year adds up to a lot. We just massively increased property taxes to fund schools. To say they are not adequately funded is ridiculous."

Outsider said…
I noticed this article a couple of weeks ago:

The gist is: preschool has no academic affect on students, and improves overall life outcomes mainly because it provides safe, reliable daycare for stressed families. Many times on this blog, similar articles have been linked or views expressed: early childhood "education" should be play, and force-feeding developmentally inappropriate academics to disadvantaged four-year-olds just makes them miserable. Preschool does not close gaps. Or to put it another way, preschool won't close any gaps in Seattle.

Seattle politicians and bureaucrats just love to spend money. There is no intelligence or discipline or rigor in the way they do it. It's absurd for Tim Burgess to say "Let's finally close the harmful academic achievement gap" with this bloated levy, since there is zero chance that it would do anything of the sort. Why aren't politicians ever held accountable for such nonsense? The levy is a screaming no.
Well, it's hard to know exactly what will help beyond the obvious which is bringing people out of poverty. Stable home environments would help the most. (I would rather see the Mayor trying to triage the homeless situation by starting with families and getting kids out of homelessness.)

There is what is called "a fade-out effect" from pre-k. There are varying POVs on this issue.

You can be on the side of "we should do something because it might help" and those who want the money targeted differently.
Anonymous said…
@ Outsider, high quality pre-K might close some gaps, short term. I'm thinking about things like the K readiness assessment. But the effects don't tend to last long, so there's not really meaningful gap closing. Such an expensive program should produce lasting outcomes.

@ Melissa, I agree. Poverty and home stability are probably the biggest drivers. They're probably also why the pre-K benefits are only short term. One other thing that might help longer team would be to income-diversify our schools. That would be challenging and expensive, but it's more likely to work long term.

@ pretzel, not really sure of your point re: ECERS. If Seattle's preschool program is middle of the pack in quality, unknown re: outcomes/long-term impact (and likely subject to fadeout), and is apparently significantly more costly than stated (and thus more expensive than similar so-so quality programs, that doesn't sound like a great deal to me. But obviously you're a fan, and yes, we should all vote our conscience.


Regressive Taxer. said…
I’m a no vote on all three levies.

Any entity that gives double digit pay raises to the bulk of their employees has plenty of money or doesn’t know how to mange’s what they had.
Anonymous said…
Melissa: If we vote No on the levy to send the message that the preK portion is ill-conceived (and that there needs to be more transparency and accountability around spending both at the city and district level), what happens to the line items for K-12 students that the levy is supposed to fund? Do those get tacked onto future levies or just go unfunded or underfunded?

Also, can you shed light on what the decision tree looks like vis a vis the SPS levy that is coming up in the winter: Vote yes on prop 1 now and X happens for the SPS levy, Vote no and Y happens for the SPS levy.

Thank you for explaining so we can make an informed decision.

Concerned parent

Anonymous said…
To clarify, I'm also concerned about what Eric B. notes early in this thread:

"I know this is a relatively small part of the levy, but I'm compelled to vote for it given support for student health programs at high schools. At Ingraham, this funds a mental health professional and an extra nurse. I'm not super-happy with the cost of the preschool program, but I'm not willing to say no to student health centers in high schools."

So if we vote No, what happens to those student health supports? Do they simply go unfunded? What are the ramifications?

Concerned parent
Anonymous said…
Additionally, can anyone explain why it's a good idea for the city to develop its own office of education with its own duplicitous bureaucracy for preK when we already have a school district whose job is presumably education? Eyeballing Juneau's rearranging the deck chairs that Melissa posted today, it certainly appears that SPS has "preK" as well. Why are we running parallel preK programs and funding two separate administrative units to do so? What is the justification for this?

Concerned parent
Tax Regressively said…
Exactly concerned parent.

If all the various governmental entities stayed in their lanes, perhaps there could be more revenues directed to the entities that need it. What if our local property tax levy was less? More goes to the state. More money comes back to the districts via mccleary.

Cut the city off from education. Let them worry about health and safety. let the schools worry about the schools.
AGAIN, they have a $12M underspend in the current F&E levy. I don't know what the monthly spending is for the K-12 programs but I think they could get by until a new vote. (And,I'd bet there are administrative things they could cut back on without hurting services.)

So yes, if you vote no and they don't bring it back, those will go unfunded. Except they won't because the city will look terrible allowing all these services, including Pre-K, to collapse. Nope, they will retool and bring back a better, clearer levy. The Promise program is the Mayor's baby, pre-K is Burgess' and K-12 is so developed, they can't possibly cut it off at the knees.

I know. It is worrisome but you do not get more transparency and clarity by wringing your hands or clicking your heels together. You have to have courage and make your voice heard. Now. Not after the vote when they have the money.

Well, the City and the district are (somewhat) aligning their pre-K programs but SPS has some that aren't city so they have their own department.

Tax Regressively, I kind of agree about staying in their lanes. It would force the district to really think about the money and not lean on the city and/or PTAs. And, it's not like the city has no problems to solve that are in their lanes.

As for the strategy if the levy loses, what would it mean for SPS' levies? Great question. I've been carefully reading the comments at many stories and I hear a lot of "what about the district's levies? I'll wait and vote for those." I think education levies from the district make more sense than coming from the city.

That said, I suspect if the city's levy passes, they will only give tepid help to the district's.

But the Board and the district have decided to go all in at over $2billion for their levies. I think this is folly and we can only see what the messaging will be to get that amount.
Fact Checker said…
The city, in fact, does not cover entire costs of health centers at all schools. The health center at our high school is heavily reliant upon grant funding.
Thanks, Fact Checker, I had forgotten about that.
Anonymous said…
OK, so bottom line: District hasn't said what will happen to the K-12 components funded by (or at least partially funded by) the F&E levy should that levy fail to pass. We don't know the consequences of voting against the F&E levy.

Melissa, is there a way you can try to find out? Seems having this transparent information would help voters decide on this.

Concerned parent
Anonymous said…
In the name of transparency, it would also be great to see the breakdown of costs associated with the preK program. If they're going to ask for $342 million--about 2-3 times what the "cost per kid" figures indicate would be needed, where does the other half go? Are they excluding administrative costs from their cost per student calculation?

DC, yes, I'm sure they are not including administrative costs, nor the costs for childcare.

Concerned Parent, there's a $12M underspend. That would be enough to keep programs going until a new election in April.

I had no idea that if you vote for a levy once, you can never vote against it. Ever.
Anonymous said…
Well if the cost per child figure doesn't include the HUGE cost of program administration--for which they are seeking funds--that's incredibly misleading. Probably intentionally so. That means the $12k per student figure is an outright lie, and I can't believe reporters and the media are allowing them to get away with it. If program administrative costs are 1/3 to 1/2 of the total PreK program budget, that's outrageous.

Is this a preK program, or a jobs program for city staff? I bet they're also using this as a piggy bank to fund other city positions, too. Surely there can't be THAT many new city positions created by this program...


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