Durkan says her proposal — targeted for the November ballot — would cost the owner of a home of median assessed value $249 per year. It would replace two expiring levies, approved by voters in 2011 and 2014, that are costing a median homeowner a combined $136 this year.
Mayor Jenny Durkan is proposing a new property-tax levy for preschool, K-12 and college programs that would see Seattle spend $636.5 million over seven years.
The city-education levy, sweeping in size and scope, would replace two existing levies that are set to expire and would cost significantly more annually than those levies combined. The increase in spending is primarily focused on a huge expansion of the city’s subsidized preschool program.
Durkan says her proposal — targeted for the November ballot — would cost the owner of a home of median assessed value $249 per year. The existing levies, approved by voters in 2011 and 2014, are costing a median homeowner a combined $136 this year.
The mayor plans to announce the proposal at a news conference Wednesday before sending it to the Seattle City Council for review.
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“We want to make sure that we have a school-to-opportunity pipeline,” Durkan said in an interview in her City Hall office Tuesday.
Durkan is making her pitch as voters feel the sting of property-tax increases that hit in March, due largely to a court-mandated boost in state spending on public schools, and in advance of Seattle Public Schools operations and construction levies planned for the February 2019 ballot.
The mayor said she knows some homeowners and renters are feeling squeezed.
“People have seen their property taxes go up. We’re living in a more and more unaffordable city,” Durkan said.
But the mayor thinks voters will be willing to “make a difference for the kids who are going through our schools” by preparing them to secure good jobs.
Although about 75 percent of Seattle public high-school students now graduate on time, rates remain lower for black, Hispanic and Native youth. Durkan’s proposal calls for new programs to recruit a more diverse K-12 teaching corps and to help homeless students.
“I think people will say, ‘yes,’ ” she said. “This is probably the most potent thing we can do to not only address the opportunity gap but also start addressing economic disparities.”
Of the $636.5 million in proposed spending, more than half would be used to expand the city’s existing preschool program. More than a third would be targeted toward K-12 students, and about 7 percent would be spent to help college students.
The mayor has vowed to make community college free and easy to access for all students graduating from Seattle’s public high schools.
The Durkan administration is proposing the measure because the city’s seven-year, $235 million Families and Education Levy and 4-year, $58 million Seattle Preschool Program Levy will each expire at the end of 2018.
The former has been mostly directed at Seattle Schools students, supporting K-12 programs meant to reduce gaps in academic achievement between students of color and their white peers.
The latter levy has allowed the city to launch its first subsidized preschool program, which began with 280 students and is aiming for 1,500 next school year.
Although Durkan knew she wanted the city to continue raising money for both areas, a key decision was whether to propose one new levy or two, she said.
She chose one, and chose to go big on preschool education — more than tripling the annual spending in order to nearly double the number of students served.
“If we can make sure that our children are ready to learn when they get to kindergarten, we will advance their progress all the way along,” the mayor said.
Even with the expansion, not every preschool-aged child in the city would be guaranteed a seat.
Durkan also had to consider redirecting money from K-12 services to the preschool program to avoid increasing taxes. That’s what former City Council member Tim Burgess argued for in a recent Seattle Times Op-Ed. Durkan opted against it.
When she was running for mayor last year, Durkan said she would scrub Seattle’s budget for savings before asking voters to raise taxes. But she also said she would consider proposing a larger, new education levy.
Last month, the mayor announced she had directed her departments to propose potential budget cuts of up to 5 percent for next year.
Durkan said she expects some criticism for proposing that the city shift some levy money from certain K-12 programs to others.
Because Seattle Schools is set to receive more money from the state, the city should step away from programs related to elementary-school education and instead concentrate on preparing high-school students for college and careers, Durkan said.
Under her proposal, the city would reduce grants that have helped elementary schools experiment with academic-support programs, Durkan said.
But Durkan’s proposal responds to concerns from some parents and educators about declining funding for workers who act as case managers for at-risk Seattle students and their families. The new levy would restore funding for them, she said.
The chart accompanying this story has been corrected. An earlier version incorrectly identified the total amount of money that would be spent under Durkan’s proposal and the amount that would be spent on college access.
This story has been corrected. An earlier version included potentially misleading information about the cost to a typical homeowner of the city’s existing preschool and education levies. The levies are costing a median homeowner a combined $136 this year.