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Seattle Voters May See More Than One Preschool Measure On November Ballot

Eric Gay
AP Photo
Pre-K students use electronic tablets in San Antonio, another city that has made a city-wide early childhood education push.

Seattle City Council members appear ready to approve two preschool-related ballot items for this November's ballot. 

The council will likely vote at its Monday meeting to ask Seattle voters to approve a package Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess has been pushing for the past year: a preschool pilot program funded by a four-year, $58 million property tax hike.

But council members will also likely certify that a separate, union-backed initiative has received enough signatures to go to the voters. If approved, Initiative 107 would hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour for more than 4,000 childcare workers and create a training program for early childhood educators.

The initiative's supporters say there is no reason the two ballot measures couldn't be passed together since city's preschool plan will involve only 200 teachers.

But Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has said he worries two ballot measures could scare off or confuse voters and lead to a "double-no," and Burgess says I-107 would create a middle man between teachers for the city's preschool program and city staff designed to ensure they're providing "high quality" education.

“There were intensive conversations between the unions, the city council and our staff, the mayor, and the mayor’s staff to avoid what is now going to happen," said Burgess. "It is very, very unfortunate.”

Yes for Early Success is the group behind I-107. Spokeswoman Heather Weiner believes Burgess is setting up "a false choice."

"We think Seattle voters want the option to vote yes-yes on these two initiatives. They don’t need to be either-or," Weiner said.

'It's Critically Important The City Stay In Control'

Weiner said the group supports the preschool pilot, which will allow Seattle families earning household incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll their children in preschool at no cost, but the program would only involve a few dozen teachers in its first year.

"We have 4,500 teachers in homes, centers, schools who are getting very limited access to the right kind of training and very limited professional support," Weiner said.

But Burgess said I-107 would upset the minimum wage deal the council recently passed into law. He also worries about the clause in the initiative that sets up the training program, called the "Professional Development Institute."

If the initiative passes, the Professional Development Institute would have the power to decide whether teachers have "met all applicable training and professional development requirements before such teacher or staff member may deliver services in the City’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program."

"It's critically important," Burgess said, "that the city stay in control" of teacher compensation, training and certification requirements.

In addition to the backing of "parents, churches and social justice organizations," Yes for Early Success has the backing of a group affiliated with the union SEIU 925, which represents more than 12,000 family child care providers in Washington state.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.