Yesterday, as we noted in Fizz, the city council put two competing early childhood education proposals on the November ballot.
One, I-107, is backed by the teachers' and child care workers' unions (SEIU Local 925 and the American Federation of Teachers, which have collectively put $407,000 toward the campaign so far), and would increase the minimum wage for childcare workers to $15 an hour starting in 2015 while putting in place a set of new training mandates to be implemented, most likely, by the unions. That proposal does not include any funding source.
The second, which the city council has been working on for about a year, is a four-year, $14.5 million property tax levy that would fund preschool for most of Seattle's 3- and 4-year-olds on a sliding scale, with free tuition for families making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line, or $71,550 for a family of four.
Two will go on the ballot; only one can pass. Here's what you need to know before voting on both proposals.
What are the major differences between I-107 and the council ballot measure?
The biggest difference is that 107 isn't funded. The ballot measure would create an oversight board and require the city to hire a "provider" selected by that board to set child care costs, determine training requirements, train certify teachers, and make policy and investment priority recommendations, but does not say where the city would come up with the money to pay for all that stuff.
In contrast, the measure backed by the council and Mayor Ed Murray comes with a tax to pay for it: $14.5 million over four years, or about $43 a year for the owner of a $400,000 house.
Additionally, 107 applies to all children of "school age" (which, detractors argue, could extend to teenagers in summer camp), while universal pre-K would apply only to three- and four-year-olds.
Finally, the measures differ strongly on teacher training and oversight.
I-107 creates a whole new infrastructure for early childhood-education training and oversight, requiring teachers and staff to get training through a "Professional Development Institute" operated jointly by the city and a single "provider," which, under the standards laid out in 107, would inevitably be operated by the unions.
(Although I-107 spokeswoman Heather Weiner, with the group Yes4EarlySuccess, says "It doesn't have to be the union ... they could find somebody else," the provider has to have successfully participated in collective bargaining and must give teachers and staff "the opportunity to be members of the organization and to participate in democratic control of the organization," among other mandates that pretty much narrow the providers down to SEIU and AFT).
In contrast, the city's oversight board would consist of the Families and Education Levy Oversight Committee's 12 members, plus four citizen members appointed by the mayor. The training standards for preschool teachers and other staff remain largely TBD in the city's plan.
These two oversight structures, the city argues, are inherently in conflict.
What will I actually be voting on?
As mentioned above, because the city council has determined that both 107 and the universal-pre-K measure pertain to the same subject, the ballot measure will be divided into two questions.
The first question is yes or no: Do you believe either proposal should move forward?
If you say no, you're done. If you say yes, you move on to the next question: Of the two proposals, which do you prefer?
This paragraph has been clarified. One reason the questions will be considered together is because if they were two different questions, there could be ambiguity: Even if both measures won a majority, the one with the greater support would win. So if the council ballot measure got 57 percent and 107 got 55, the council measure would go into effect, and 107 would lose. Forcing voters to choose between the two creates a clearer winner.
(All of this, of course, could be subject to a legal challenge after the vote.)
Why can't both proposals go forward?
In theory, the city council could have passed 107 yesterday (without putting it on the ballot), but, they argued, the two proposals addressed the same subject (pre-K education), and the conflict between the two made it impossible for both to go into effect at the same time.
I thought I-107 was about giving preschool teachers a $15 minimum wage. Where does that fit in?
I-107 does mandate a $15 minimum wage for all early childhood-education providers and staff on an accelerated schedule, starting in 2015 for larger providers and phasing in over three years for smaller ones. That schedule conflicts with the compromise minimum wage measure signed by Mayor Ed Murray, which phases in a $15 minimum over seven years, depending on the size of a business, whether it offers health care, and whether its workers rely on tips.
However, that conflict isn't part of the legal conflict on which council members based their rejection of I-107 yesterday —it just means that if 107 passes, the city will have to figure out how to deal with a two-track schedule for phasing in $15—one for early childhood educators, and one for everyone else in the city.
Any other outstanding issues I should be paying attention to?
There's some concern that I-107—which, again, does not include a funding source—defines "affordable" pre-K in a way that may be difficult for the city to achieve, opening Seattle up to a McCleary-style challenge—which some voters may actually like, even though the union says that's not their intent.
At the same time, the initiative creates a private right of action for anyone to sue the city for violating any of the "ministerial, mandatory, and nondiscretionary duties" laid out in the initiative. And the union has pulled a mandate before: The home care workers union, SEIU 775, passed an initiative mandating additional training for home health-care workers, I-1029, in 2008, and eventually sued the state to make them pay for it; they won a similar measure, I-1163, in 2011, creating a fund for home health care worker training.
Initiative supporters, including council member Kshama Sawant, say the 10 percent language is oonly "aspirational"—"There is nothing in this initiative that I can see that immediately requires the expenditure of millions of dollars," Sawant said yesterday—but that will clearly be a matter of legal interpretation. Weiner says "there's nothing in there that says the city" must implement that 10 percent goal, but city staffers are (perhaps understandably) worried about all those "shall"s.
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