Determined to push through several of her campaign promises, Mayor Jenny Durkan in her first few hours of office already signed two executive orders, one to create a rental voucher program and one to review the city's Race and Social Justice Initiative. Within the first 24 hours, she signed a third to start on arguably her biggest campaign promise of all—free college tuition.
Durkan on Wednesday at South Seattle College signed an order to create a framework for the Seattle Promise College Tuition Program, what she said on the campaign trail would offer all graduating public high school students two years of free in-state community or vocational college tuition.
The executive order said the program would begin by promising current students of the 13th Year Promise Scholarship a second year (45 credits) of free college tuition. It sets a deadline of March 8, 2018, for the city to propose funding sources and the timeline for the program.
Seattle Colleges Chancellor Shouan Pan on Wednesday noted that U.S. citizens coming from wealthy families were eight times more likely to graduate from college and said community colleges offered "the gateway to the American dream" for lower-income and first-generation students.
"There is no better investment we can make as a city than in the education of our young people," Durkan said. She was introduced by Myron Ramirez, 25, who graduated from the University of Washington in 2015 after he attended South Seattle College first as a 13th Year Promise Scholarship student.
The order says the city's interdepartmental team will immediately consider including the tuition program in renewing the Families and Education Levy and Seattle Preschool Levy. Durkan estimated on the campaign trail that the program would cost about $5 million in the first year and $7 million a year afterward, though at a press conference Wednesday said it would "take a while to scale a program of that size."
Current versions of both levies are meant to close the achievement gap for pre-K through 12th grade education and don't include funding for college education, and in the past some city officials have been adamant that the funds remain focused on their original purpose—like when council members in June considered using the money for public schools to switch to a two-tier bus system. The public school teachers union who endorsed Durkan's opponent, Cary Moon, also listed her commitment to using the funds exclusively for pre-college education.
Durkan on Thursday is also announcing a new small business advisory council, another campaign promise that came alongside her plan to exempt startups from the city's business-and-occupation tax.