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Yes on Proposition 1 for Seattle Schools
October 29, 2018
by William P. Meyers

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Funding Education for a Better Seattle and World

Proposition 1, on ballots in Seattle in the November 6, 2018 election, is titled the Families, Preschool, and Promise Levy. It will add to local real estate taxes. It replaces two prior levies, but the tax rate is higher, more money is generated, and the programs funded are ambitious.

I've been handing out Yes for Seattle Kids materials, along with my local Democratic Party recommendations, in my precinct. I favor 1 and I already cast my ballot for it. I had been surprised, when I picked up my materials, that a local education activist, Melissa Taylor (of Emerge Washington), refused the Prop 1 handouts. I did recall that she argued against the local Democratic club endorsing the measure, but I asked her to remind me of her arguments, which she shares with some others in the pro-public schools community.

I will present the argument against 1, then the argument for it.

Despite the fact that it raises more money than the current levy, it is possible less money may go to Pre-K through 8 programs. This is because it provides for 2 years of free college at local community colleges to those who graduate from Seattle high schools.

Proposition 1 does not specifically exclude funds being used for programs at charter schools. I am against charter schools, and thought I was a bit of a fanatic for holding that position, but some people (not just the public teachers union) believe charter schools are a disease that needs to be quarantined.

Which brings up the more general issue, the question of oversight. Instead of outlining specific budgets for each program to be supported, the funds will be allocated by a committee. Final approval rests with the city council. This creates the fear that programs some people feel are most important will be underfunded.

Finally, Melissa had a concern that in raising the property tax for Prop 1, it would make it more difficult to pass two other education levies that are planned for the Spring 2019 ballot. Those also replace expiring levies, so failure to pass them could be devastating for the schools.

On the positive side, what does Prop 1 fund?

It provides for preschool for about 2,500 low-income children who otherwise would be left out.

It will pay for academic support and social services, including health care, for kids at risk of dropping out of school.

It will fund 2 years of free community college for all Seattle high school graduates (the Seattle Promise program). That gives kids a big incentive to complete high school as well as get the education needed to succeed in out society.

Currently in Seattle over 30% of low-income students fail to graduate from high-school. The programs from Prop 1 money should improve on this.

Prop 1 would raise an estimated $620 million for these programs over seven years. While the average home owner (or landlord) would pay about $242 per year to the levy, that is an increase of just $108 per year over the current levies.

I did not find Melissa's argument compelling, and I know she is very good at stating her position. Nor did she get upset when I said I would support Prop 1. We agreed people who support public schools could disagree on this one. In fact for her and her friends opposition is tactical: if 1 is defeated, they plan to submit a proposition more to their liking for the spring election.

I think the free community college part is great. I supported Jenny Durkan for Mayor partly because of her campaign pledge on this. Of course I support making preschool available, and providing more support to students in K-12 schools.

As to the charter school aspect, it is not clear that charter schools will get any money. And if they do, it is not the end of the world.

Finally, I think killing Prop 1 is more of a danger to the spring levies than passing it. Prop 1 taxes are for the City of Seattle. The spring levies are for the School District of Seattle, which has a separate budget. I think for the typical voter the message should be: vote to fund schools. Once people start nitpicking, they may vote against any tax measure, which would send us back to the dark ages.

See also Vote Yes for Seattle Kids.

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