Opinion: Say Yes to City of Seattle Proposition 1, Renewing Our Commitment to Seattle’s Kids

by Elizabeth Whitford, CEO of School’s Out Washington, Jessica Werner, Executive Director of Youth Development Executives of King County, Erin Okuno, Executive Director of Southeast Seattle Education Coalition

It is an exciting time for children, youth, and families in Seattle. The future holds promise with a new superintendent, city government and the school district working more closely together, and community support for critical educational programs. However, Seattle Public Schools still faces many challenges in its commitment to closing opportunity gaps and ensuring excellence in education for every student.

The rapid increase in family homelessness, persistent opportunity and achievement gaps for children of color, and a state spending plan that will ultimately limit the district’s ability to raise money to fully address these needs are a few of the critical issues facing our district and community.

Since 1990, the City of Seattle’s Family and Education (FEPP) Levy has supported Seattle’s children and youth through after-school and summer programs, additional support staff during the school day, onsite health centers to provide direct access to dental and physical health care, and more. Since 2014, the Seattle Preschool Program has delivered high quality preschool programming to more than 1,500 children, helping them to become kindergarten ready.

This year, under Mayor Durkan’s plan, both expiring levies will be combined to form the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise Levy to give kids an early start, then sustain the gains through K-12 education, and ensure that high school seniors can access college through “Seattle’s Promise.”

Children and youth need engaging, active opportunities to develop social, emotional, and academic skills in order to grow up healthy and resilient. When we provide positive supports early on, we can avoid more costly interventions later in life.

Employers are also saying they want more emphasis on building “soft skills” such as critical thinking, communication skills, and applied knowledge in real world settings. As organizations who work closely with community-based nonprofits we also see a need for our children, especially children of color, to develop positive self-identity through a community context. Expanded learning opportunities offered before and after school, and during the summer are essential supports that allow for the teaching of “soft skills” in culturally relevant contexts.

Afterschool, summer, and other enrichment opportunities are currently not available to all students, and children who would benefit the most are often unable to afford these opportunities. A 2013 report by ExpandED Schools calculated that by 6th grade, a typical student from a middle-income family will have received 6,000 hours of additional learning time compared to their peers from low-income families, two-thirds of which can be attributed to disparities in access to after-school and summer learning opportunities. This levy will provide funding to help low-income families access these expanded learning opportunities, helping to close this untenable opportunity gap.

This is just one example of how the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy is critical to ensuring Seattle’s kids are fully prepared to take advantage of all our city has to offer. Our city should take pride in creating opportunities for children and youth to thrive both in and out of school, from preschool through graduation. Let’s make sure these opportunities are available for years to come as we build healthy, vibrant Seattle communities. As leaders committed to advancing equity and opportunity for children and youth, we ask you to please vote for the FEPP levy on the November ballot.

School’s Out Washington: www.schoolsoutwashington.org

School’s Out Washington is a statewide organization with a mission of providing services and guidance for organizations to ensure all young people have safe places to learn and grown. SOWA is dedicated to building community systems to support quality afterschool, youth development and summer programs for Washington’s children and youth ages 5 through young adulthood.

Youth Development Executives of King County: www.ydekc.org

Youth Development Executives of King County (YDEKC) is a coalition of youth-serving organizations working together to improve outcomes for young people in our region, building the youth development field to provide these opportunities and promote equity. YDEKC does this through advocacy, collaboration, and leadership development.

Southeast Seattle Education Coalition: www.sesecwa.org

Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) is a coalition of Community Based Organizations (CBOs), schools, educators, community leaders, parents and caregivers, and concerned SE Seattle residents working to improve education for all children, especially those in SE Seattle and those farthest away from opportunities.  

Featured Photo Courtesy Southeast Seattle Education Coalition

One thought on “Opinion: Say Yes to City of Seattle Proposition 1, Renewing Our Commitment to Seattle’s Kids”

  1. While I do appreciate the thoughts here of supporters of Prop 1, they don’t say a lot about details. And details count.

    I urge a no vote to the City of Seattle’s 2018 Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy. This levy is a radical change from previous ones. With the larger property tax increase already enacted by the Legislature to fulfill the McCleary decision, I question the combination of a dollar increase and an expansion of the Families and Education levy.

    And, Seattle Public Schools has its own two levy renewals in February 2019 and I believe that with those four large property taxes, there might be voter fatigue.

    The new F&E levy will cost the median Seattle homeowner $248 each year, up from $136 a year under the two present levies

    About pre-kindergarten. I don’t argue that pre-k isn’t a good thing. But the City of Seattle was already funding pre-k in the Families and Education (F&E) levy prior to its separate preschool levy passed in 2014.

    Now, between the current F&E levy and the pre-k levy, the city spends about $22 million on its pre-k program. But under the new, combined levy, the spending will be $53 million a year. That is nearly three times what is being spent now — but it won’t even double the number of spaces.

    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. And, Boston supplements its funding with grants from both state and federal sources. The entire Seattle Pre-K budget is funded by the levy.

    As well, the growth of pre-k is highly dependent on space. If the City has to pay for space, that will be a problem for growth. Where will that money come from?

    There is no language in the new Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy that says that the K-12 dollars can only go to Seattle Public Schools. Meaning, any charter school in Seattle could access those dollars.

    Recall that in 2012 city of Seattle itself voted in — in a firm majority — against charter schools.

    In the levy proposal, the mayor or city council could have put in explicit language protecting those K-12 dollars for Seattle School District but didn’t. The state recognizes charter schools as a different kind of public school and the city could have done the same to protect existing K-12 programs like summer school and after-school activities but didn’t.

    Finally, please note that if the levy is defeated, the city can bring it back in April 2019. In the meantime, no programs would have to be affected as the current Families & Education levy has a $12 million underspend and the pre-k levy has a $1 million underspend — the amounts left over from the end of the two levies.

    Voters need clarity, not confusion.

    Melissa Westbrook
    Seattle Schools Community Forum blog

Leave a ReplyCancel reply