With voter approval, the levy would grow Seattle’s preschool program, maintain support for K-12 schools and help make community college free for graduates of the city’s public high schools.
Seattle voters will decide later this year whether the city should collect more than $600 million in property taxes for education programs Mayor Jenny Durkan says would create an “opportunity pipeline” from preschool through K-12 to community college.
The seven-year measure, which the City Council voted unanimously Monday to send to the November ballot, would grow Seattle’s subsidized-preschool program by 1,000 seats, mostly maintain funding for K-12 programs and help make community college free for all students graduating from the city’s public high schools.
The Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy also would help open additional student-health centers in K-12 schools.
Monday’s action came amid uncertainty and debate about tax increases in a liberal, increasingly expensive city.
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The council voted last week to repeal a controversial new tax on large businesses, and many Seattle residents were slammed earlier this year by state property-tax hikes.
Seattle Public Schools has its own construction and operations levies.
Council President Bruce Harrell said he expects some voters to question whether they can afford the new city levy. But the measure is necessary as Seattle attempts to close the educational “opportunity gap” between students from underprivileged backgrounds and their peers, he said.
“We can’t afford not to pass this levy,” Harrell said. “The future of our kids — the future of our city — depends on addressing the opportunity gap.”
The new levy would replace an existing preschool levy and an existing K-12 levy that together are costing the owner of a home with the median assessed value — nearly $600,000 now in Seattle — about $136 this year. Those levies both will expire at the end of 2018.
Under the new levy, the owner of a median home would pay about $248 per year over the life of the levy, according to officials — a tax hike of about $112 per year or $9 per month.
The council didn’t substantially change the size of the measure proposed by Durkan but did alter the mayor’s spending plan by moving a substantial amount of money from preschool and high-school programs to elementary-school programs.
Using surplus from the existing K-12 levy and expected interest, the council added about $1 million to the mayor’s spending plan, bringing the total to $637.8 million.
The council trimmed about $21 million in preschool allocations and about $12 million in high-school allocations from Durkan’s spending plan, moving the money to elementary-school programs to mostly negate cuts proposed by the mayor.
When Durkan laid out her plan, she said elementary schools would require less levy assistance than they receive currently because the state Legislature has begun boosting property taxes for basic education.
Some parents and educators said the elementary-school programs on the chopping block supplement basic education and are still sorely needed.
Even with the spending adjustments championed by Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Rob Johnson, elementary-school programs would receive less under the new levy than they receive under the existing K-12 levy, according to the council.
The council trimmed about $3 million in community-college spending from Durkan’s plan, assuming an average annual tuition subsidy of $2,500 rather than $3,000.
The mayor objected, but Seattle Colleges agreed to make up the reduction.
González said she voted to repeal the city’s new business tax partly because she was worried about a November referendum on that tax hurting the education levy’s chances. She quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in hailing the levy, saying kids deserve “education and culture of their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant was less enthusiastic, knocking city leaders for approving a tax on “regular, working people” after backing off a tax on big businesses.
In a news release hailing Monday’s vote, Durkan said the levy would “put more young people on a path to good-paying jobs and create a more affordable future.”
Certain seniors, people with disabilities and veterans would be eligible for relief from the property taxes, the mayor said.
This article has been corrected. An earlier version said the City Council had trimmed about $21 million in community-college allocations from the mayor’s spending plan. The trim was in preschool allocations.