Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan said two years of paid community college tuition would help the city's high-school graduates "participate in the economic prosperity in Seattle."
Seattle mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan wants the city to pay for two years of community-college tuition for all the city’s public-high school graduates.
Pitching a plan she called “Seattle Promise,” Durkan estimated her proposal would cost about $4.5 million in 2018, and $7 million a year after that, with subsequent increases for inflation. She said funding sources could include the city’s tax on sweetened beverages, a $500 million local-education fund included as part of Sound Transit 3, and the city’s Families and Education Levy, which is up for renewal in 2018.
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In a telephone news conference with reporters Monday, Durkan argued too many Seattle jobs are going to people who move to the city. “We have to make sure our kids have the opportunity to get those jobs so they can really participate in the economic prosperity in Seattle,” she said.
Durkan cited statistics indicating a quarter of city high school grads do not pursue college — rising to one-third for low-income students and students of color.
Her proposal would expand an existing program, called 13th Year Promise Scholarship. That scholarship — which has been privately funded by Seattle-area businesses — has for several years offered one year of free community college to graduates of Cleveland, Chief Sealth International and Rainier Beach high schools to attend South Seattle College.
Mayor Ed Murray earlier this year proposed expanding the scholarship to more schools using up to $6.5 million in city money.
About half of students who received a 13th Year Promise Scholarship said that they would not have attended college if not for the program.
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The proposed Seattle Promise program would be open to all graduates of Seattle public high schools, including charter schools, regardless of family income or citizenship status. It would pay up to 15 credits a quarter for students for six quarters at any public community or technical college in Washington. Durkan’s campaign estimated the plan would serve about a quarter of Seattle’s 2,900 high-school graduates per year.
Tuition at Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges costs $3,936 for state residents during the 2017-18 school year. Nearly 40 percent of students receive some kind of financial aid, according to Laura McDowell, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.
The progressive policy pitch by Durkan, the former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, comes as she vies with urban planner and activist Cary Moon in the Nov. 7 general election.
Reacting to Durkan’s proposal, Moon agreed local students should have the opportunity to have free tuition at community and technical colleges. But in a statement, she called such proposals “not enough.”
Moon said she supports new sources of tax revenue, such as a statewide tax on capital gains for households earning more than $250,000, and a tax on luxury real estate. She added the city must tackle inequity in education “at its root causes, by addressing the conditions of unaffordable housing and racialized wealth inequality that so many families struggle with every day.”
Moon also announced a new endorsement from SEIU 925, which represents 17,000 educators, child-care providers and higher education workers at the University of Washington.
“Cary Moon is unafraid to think outside the box, and whether it’s addressing our housing crisis or growing affordable, union child care, we need that bold thinking from our next mayor,” SEIU 925 President Karen Hart said in a statement released by Moon’s campaign.