There are two preschool measures on the ballot this fall—Prop. 1A from the unions, Yes for Early Success,  and Prop 1B from the City, Quality Seattle Preschool. Both feel half-baked and yet also feel over-reaching.  If the goal is more and better preschool for Seattle tots, neither measure hits that mark.

If the City and the unions wanted voters to say yes, there would have been a jointly-created proposition.  But there isn’t one. And now voters are left with confusing ballot choices. And, if one plan passes, will there be goodwill and cooperation on the part of the side that loses? You have to wonder.

The unions’ proposal is a birth-to five program that would provide regulations for programs/providers as well as creating professional development for teachers and a higher salary for caregivers/teachers.

The City’s proposal would create an infrastructure for a pilot preschool program that would create more preschool space with teacher training and program/curriculum development.

The City’s provides a funding stream ($43 dollars a year for someone who owns a $400,000 home for $58 million); the union’s does not. 

Yes for Success—the unions’ plan—is not about providing more access to preschool. The good in it comes in the form of a certification/training program for early educators.  

The City’s plan is a major initiative that would provide more affordable preschool but is much more expansive than the unions', so let’s consider what some of major issues are with the sweeping plan

 Did the City cover all their bases before they wrote Prop 1B?

The City’s own resolution on preschool (Section 3) admits that they don’t know how many 3-4 year olds are enrolled in preschool or how many types of preschools there are.

That’s information that would have been useful to know before anything went on the ballot. And, it’s not like the City doesn’t already invest in preschool—26 percent of the Families & Education levy (about $61 million out of $235 million) is dedicated to it.

•The City did not address whether preschool would be the best bang for the buck over, say, fully funding kindergarten or smaller class sizes for K-12.

•Why didn’t the City consider how to improve the existing Head Start program? 

•Is it developmentally appropriate for preschoolers to be in what the City Council commissioned report called a “6-hour educational day?” 

•While research supports academic gains with preschool, there is also research suggesting that low-income students in longer preschool days suffer negative social effects.

 What are possible downsides?

 •If the City is worried about outcomes for children from low-income families, why isn’t the program geared to those students? Prop 1B makes taxpayer-funded preschool available to all. The City is not being big-hearted; research shows the best outcomes for low-income preschoolers come only from a class with a varied cross-section of students. If buy-in from middle-class parents in Seattle doesn’t happen, overall, the program will not succeed.

•Prop 1B is top-heavy with administrators, mentors, and consultants. The salaries for the teachers would be between $30,000 and $60,000 while administrative salaries range from $100,000 and $200,000, (see pages 27, 29, 37.)

•The City seeks to create its own curriculum that would preclude already established programs like Montessori and Waldorf. While the City could more easily measure outcomes with one curriculum, there is no one-size-fits-all program for preschoolers. Parents who want to access the City’s program would not have any discernable choice in programming.

•The City’s proposition talks about data collection/sharing but that comes with a warning.

The Departments of Education and Labor have created a Pre-K-to-age-20 database, ditto Washington State. The DOE counts 400 points of data that could be collected including discipline, parent income, and even health records covered under FERPA, not HIPAA.  (FERPA is the law governing student data and HIPAA protects patient privacy.) Then there are the data breaches that we learn about nearly every single day. What’s the fastest growing identity theft?  Child identity theft.

Is the City trying to do too much (and expecting too much from Seattle Schools)?

•The City Council has just taken on the work of overseeing Parks. Do they really have the bandwidth and expertise to take on two new major endeavors at once?  (The Mayor and City Council member Nick Licata just announced yet another new entity they would like to create, the Office of Labor Standards.)

•For oversight, all the City’s proposition does is add just four new members to the existing Families & Education committee. Is that enough for a new citywide program?

Seattle Schools would be a “partner” in the City program but there are two huge issues for SPS – capacity and state mandate.

•SPS has a severe capacity management issue.  The district installed 30 new portables just this summer.  Some schools are looking to revamp all their space, even closets. 

As well, the state (underfunded) mandate for SPS is K-12, not preschool.  How can the City be asking anything of a district that is has no extra space or dollars?

I cannot vote for either measure even if it’s “for the kids.” We often hear “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” But supporting a good cause the wrong way won’t make it right. Both measures should go back to the drawing board. 

Local blogger Melissa Westbrook writes about Seattle Public Schools at her site Seattle Schools Community Forum .

Follow PubliCola's coverage of this November's competing preschool measures.  


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