My favorite photo of Mayor Ed Murray from the day he announced the citys pre-K program.
  • City of Seattle
  • My favorite photo of Mayor Ed Murray from the day he announced the city's pre-K plan.
The City of Seattle is hoping to create a taxpayer-funded high-quality public pre-kindergarten program. It's most certainly, when it passes out of the council this afternoon, gonna be on your ballot this fall. On the City Council, Tim Burgess has made pre-K his precious baby (and rightfully so, though sometimes at the expense of other progressive causes), and Mayor Ed Murray has repeatedly called the creation of a universal pre-K system the most important thing he'll do as mayor.

And while decades of evidence shows that access to pre-K offers kids all sorts of benefits, it's expensive, and it's the kind of super-expensive shit that even lefty governments can falter on. Burgess and Murray have been driving a pre-K shaped snowplow through City Hall for the last few weeks, trying to mow down any obstacles in the way of implementation. They're doing it for the right reasons, and anyone and everyone but the most evil child-eating witches in pointy hats hopes that this initial "demonstration project" is successful.

The vote to move pre-K to the ballot is happening in just moments (the city council is meeting right now to discuss that and confirm the new police chief, among other things). We'll see how it all turns out soon, but there are two big dramas exploding around the issue—one of them will be dealt with smoothly by the council, but one of them is likely to linger on until the election.

And for the sake of The Children, they probably should've been dealt with more elegantly than what's about to happen.

First, the easy problem: See the sliding tuition scale they initially announced? (Click and scroll down a bit.) See how at the high end, the city still pays for at least 10 percent of tuition, even for the richie-richest families? That last part didn't sit well with the left wing of the council, who fought bitterly over spending money trying to "attract" rich families with what amounts to a Penny Saver coupon. ("Here, Bill Gates, here's your $50 off coupon for this month's $1,000 tuition bill!") Council Members Mike O'Brien, Nick Licata, and Kshama Sawant have questioned the efficacy of that approach, saying those dollars would be better spent helping even one more low-income kid attend preschool. And while Burgess makes a very convincing argument—that the point of that incentive is not that it's such a great deal, but that it means the city is committed to supporting every kid on at least some level—the sliding scale is likely to look a bit different when it goes to the ballot.

And here I thought that was gonna be the big pre-K drama. But no: There's something much bigger at stake now.

See, back at the beginning of the year, unions that represent early education and child care workers started hustling for a ballot initiative that would mandate an increase in their pay, along with what would probably be a union-affiliated training and certification program. It's a sort of mandatory way for existing workers in the field to have some democratic say in what new standards are created for their profession. You can learn a little more about their ballot measure here at their website. Because they got their signatures, got 'em certified, and are going to the ballot this fall along with the city's pre-K plan. And that's where it all gets sticky.

The mayor's office doesn't seem to like that the pay increase, which brings child-care workers to a $15 minimum wage, happens on a different schedule from his minimum wage compromise and defines large and small child care businesses differently from the city ordinance. Burgess, who is trying to base his policy on the most stringent of data and evidence around what brings the best outcomes, likely doesn't appreciate the loss of control that an outside group helping to determine credentials and training would bring.

So what's the city doing? Well, as per this afternoon's schedule, the council is setting up the two measures as dueling ballot measures instead of complementary ones. They say they don't have a choice under city law, but the people behind the wage-and-training initiative certainly think they do have a choice, and they don't appreciate being forced to campaign against the city's pre-K plan if they want to support their own work. They say it's a false choice, that they want voters to be able to approve a new city plan and a union-backed raise and professional-development program.

But it's on the council's agenda today to pit the two against each other, in which case this fight is going to keep on going all the way until November. You can, if you want, watch the city council meeting online right here. I'll report more on all this after the vote.