City Hall

City Proposes Nearly Doubling Families and Education Levy

By Erica C. Barnett February 1, 2011

This morning, Mayor Mike McGinn introduced a seven-year, $231 million Families and Education Levy ballot measure that would nearly double the amount a typical Seattle homeowner pays for early-learning and youth services to an average of $124 per year, compared to $65 a year under the last levy, adopted in 2004. Over seven years, that's $868, compared to an average of $455 over the levy adopted in 2004.

In real terms, the proposed levy appears significantly more expensive than the one adopted seven years ago. At a press briefing this morning, McGinn said his proposal, based on recommendations from a levy oversight committee jointly appointed by the council and the mayor, would cost about 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value; the previous levy, which proponents billed as a renewal, cost just over 19 cents per $1,000.

The increase comes at a time when home prices have stagnated: In 2004, the median home value in Seattle was $336,000; at the end of 2010, it was $348,000.

Nonetheless, McGinn expressed confidence this morning that voters would, as they have twice previously, continue to support the levy despite its increasing price tag (and the potential presence of two competing levies, for the seawall and light rail expansion, on the November ballot). "Everyone has to climb the letter for themselves, but there has to be a ladder there," McGinn said. "Seattle so far has always said yes."

Council member Tim Burgess, head of the city's education and public safety committee, told PubliCola he thinks there's "strong support" on the council for the levy committee's recommendations. "It is almost a doubling, but the needs of our kids demand that. I think asking Seattle homeowners to pay, on average, $124 a year is a very worthwhile expenditure."

The levy is focused on providing supportive services for kids in Seattle public schools, including health screenings, summer school, support for immigrant and refugee families, case management, sports, school-based health centers, and college and career planning. The levy itself is administered through the city, not the school district. "This is not just money we hand over to the school district," McGinn said. Although the school district does contract with the city to provide some of the services the levy funds, McGinn said that if the district didn't meet the city's expectations, "we will switch the contracting partner."

The first Families and Education Levy passed under Mayor Norm Rice in 1997. Read the levy details here.
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