The Seattle Preschool Program will have fewer spots than originally projected because the city will begin paying the program’s preschool providers more money per child.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is shrinking the projected number of children the city’s preschool program will serve during its trial period, he said Thursday.
Before Seattle voters approved a $58 million property-tax levy in 2014 to pay for the program’s first four years, city officials had projected it would serve about 280 children in the 2015-2016 school year, then ramp up to about 2,000 children in 2018-2019.
Now Murray is projecting the program will reach 1,615 children by its fourth year. That’s because the city will begin paying the program’s preschool providers more money per child, he said.
Officials are having trouble recruiting additional providers to join the program, said City Councilmember Tim Burgess, a leader in the push for city-funded preschool.
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“This is why we first launched the Seattle Preschool Program as a pilot program that would allow us to make adjustments,” Murray said in a statement Thursday.
“The big lesson learned after year one is that we need to make it more attractive for providers to participate in the program, including reducing barriers and enhancing the providers’ financial incentives and the per-child investment,” the mayor added, saying quality instruction is his priority.
The program for 3- and 4-year-olds served 288 children in 15 classrooms this past school year, according to data presented to the City Council in December. Of those children, 24 percent were white, 24 percent black, 12 percent Latino, 15 percent Asian, 9 percent multiple races and 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. For the rest of the children, race wasn’t specified.
There were four providers operating at 10 sites, half of them in Southeast Seattle.
Burgess called the start “a roaring success” and an important step on the way to universal preschool in Seattle — a program able to accommodate any child in the city.
The goal to serve 2,000 children in 2018-2019 wasn’t included in the 2014 ballot-measure language, nor in the voters guide for that election, Burgess said. But he conceded the change announced Thursday is somewhat disappointing.
Seattle’s program subsidizes tuition for children on a sliding scale according to household income. The more the household earns, the less the city pays for the child.
Providers draw revenue from a mix of city, state and federal subsidies, and from families.
The city’s payments need to increase to make the program more viable, Burgess said.
“It has been difficult to persuade some new providers to join the program, because they couldn’t see how it worked for them economically,” he said.
The change is needed partly because fewer paying households have taken part than officials initially projected, Burgess said.
Many of the first-year sites were in high-poverty neighborhoods — and that could be one reason for the misestimate, he said.
“I think that problem will correct as we roll out in future years,” Burgess said.
Rising real-estate and labor costs are also factors, according to Murray’s office.
About 78 percent of the children served this past year qualified for free tuition, while 20 percent of families paid a portion. Just a few paid full tuition — about $10,000.
For the coming year, the mayor expects the preschool program to serve 595 children in 33 classrooms.
Other changes were approved by the council in May.
The program will now allow providers to have 15 percent of the children in each classroom be children who would not be eligible for the program because they don’t live in the city or for other reasons.
While those children won’t receive Seattle subsidies, they’ll be allowed to share classrooms with children who do. The provision will give providers more flexibility.
Eight classrooms will be in Seattle Public Schools buildings next year. The district provided three classrooms this past year in spaces not already being used for instruction, at Bailey Gatzert, Van Asselt and old Van Asselt.
Starting in 2017, the program aims to give enrollment priority to children who have older siblings in elementary schools where preschool classrooms are housed.
The Seattle School Board voted unanimously in March to host four additional city-subsidized preschool classrooms, at Thornton Creek, Arbor Heights, Highland Park and Louisa Boren STEM K-8. It voted in June to add another, at Dearborn Park.
Board Vice President Sue Peters, who voted against the Dearborn Park classroom, said she understood the community wanted a preschool there but had questions about the program’s first year.
“My concern is about the district overextending itself into preschool, when it is not our main mandate,” Peters said at the board’s June meeting. “Our main mandate is K-12.”