Jenny Durkan’s proposed free college tuition for city residents is smart politics and sound policy, but it should be just the start.
SEATTLE’S flock of tower cranes and daily waves of new arrivals — a net population growth of 21,000 last year was tops in the nation — present astonishing challenges. But this election season, the long-term challenges to the city’s education system have mostly been pressed to the side.
That changed a bit last week, when Jenny Durkan made a politically smart and sound policy proposal to provide two years of universal free community college tuition for city residents. Expanded, high-quality education will help ensure the city’s continued economic success and shared opportunity across income levels.
The sad fact is that Washington state is a huge importer of highly skilled, college-graduate workers because it is not producing enough of its own. The homegrown pipeline — from public school to jobs requiring a postsecondary education — is leaky. A report by Washington Roundtable found that, among the 80,700 Washington state students starting ninth grade, just 25,500 will eventually graduate with a postsecondary certification.
That has profound consequences for those young people. The Roundtable report estimated that three-quarters of the white-collar, career jobs expected to be created in the next five years will be filled by candidates with a postsecondary education. When Washington-educated kids aren’t able to compete, employers naturally look elsewhere — and a legion of skilled professionals across the nation are eager to come to Seattle and the region.
Durkan’s proposal is a modest step toward leveling the playing field, in ways that other cities already have, from San Francisco to Kalamazoo, Michigan. And she showed sound fiscal judgment by suggesting the city’s bountiful existing revenue streams could pay for it.
But Durkan, whom The Seattle Times editorial board has endorsed, and her opponent, Cary Moon, should take a more expansive view, because educational achievement must be measured across the spectrum, from birth to graduate school.
Seattle’s small pilot program providing high-quality prekindergarten education is clearly a step in the right direction. And Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s effort to better partner with Seattle schools on school capacity planning was smart, if overdue.
Seattle needs a world-class education system to match its world-class growth — and increasingly world-class housing prices. With so many resources at the city’s disposal, the biggest obstacle is focus and prioritization. Let’s hear more from the mayoral candidates about their education plans.