A four-year, tax-payer funded program to make high quality preschool more affordable has hit all its enrollment and diversity targets.
Seattle’s new, subsidized preschool program has met its first-year goals — for enrollment, number of classrooms, and the racial and income diversity of students, according to the city’s education and early learning department.
Voters approved a $58 million property-tax levy last year to make preschool in the city more affordable and higher quality. The idea is to chip away at persistent academic achievement gaps between children who get lots of learning opportunities at home and those who don’t, which tends to mirror economic and racial divisions.
The tax pays for a four-year program, which advocates hope will demonstrate the value of early learning. By the 2018-19 school year, it will have 2,000 students enrolled in 100 classrooms.
In this first year, the program is serving 288 children in 15 classrooms from Greenwood in North Seattle to the Central District and to Highland Park in Southwest Seattle, according to data presented last week to members of Seattle’s city council.
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The racial mix is 24 percent white, 24 percent African American, 12 percent Latino and 15 percent Asian, according to preliminary data. English is the primary language spoken in 64 percent of their homes. The income mix is diverse, too.
A family of four can make up to about $73,000 a year (three times the federal poverty level) and qualify for free tuition, which applies to 78 percent of the children enrolled this year. About half of all the kids in the program come from families making more than the poverty line. Families of about one in five children make more than three times the poverty level, so they are paying a portion of the tuition on a sliding scale.
And a few are paying the full amount — about $10,000 for the year.
The city was able to offer a seat to 93 percent of eligible applicants this year. Meeting next year’s goal of serving 780 children in 39 classrooms will require more providers — there are only five this year — and 24 more classrooms. The city says it has identified several providers who are close to meeting the eligibility standards.
And Seattle Public Schools agreed this summer to provide three classrooms for the effort, giving up space that wasn’t already being used by for instruction.
“We really hope the school district will step in and provide significantly more classrooms,” said city councilman Tim Burgess, one of the preschool program’s chief advocates.
“This is one of the most significant steps we can take to change the life outcomes for so many of our kids,” Burgess said. “High quality preschool has benefits that accrue to everybody in Seattle, not just these children and their families.”
Applications for next school year will be available Feb. 5 and the deadline is March 11.