Seattle voters pay attention. There's one more education levy coming your way, but this one's courtesy the City of Seattle and not the Seattle Public Schools. The City Council will vote next month on whether to place a renewal of the Families and Education Levy before voters in November, and if approved it would bring in $231 million, double the amount of the earlier $116 million levy which is set to expire this year.
This seven-year levy comes at a cost of $124 (about $10 per month) to the homeowner of the average assessed residential value of $462,045 in 2012, up from $65 annually for the earlier levy (yes, this means even higher property taxes). Council Member Tim Burgess, who sponsored legislation to renew the levy, admitted in his newsletter last week that the amount is a significant increase from the previous levy and will pose "an added burden on property owners." Yet, he said, it was crucial to tackle "the elephant in the room: the widespread inequity in Seattle Public Schools."
Consider a young student from a Seattle family living in poverty. When she enters kindergarten, she has slightly better than a 50-50 chance of reading at grade level in the 3rd grade. From the beginning, she has only a 60% chance of graduating from high school on time. But, it gets worse. If she fails a core subject in 6th grade, her high school graduation chances fall below 50%. In high school, she has a 1 in 3 chance of believing she has been tagged by teachers as “not college material.”
Even if she does know the right courses to take to prepare for college (40% of low-income students won’t), her odds of making the grades she needs—A’s, B’s or C’s in all her core courses—are a slim 1 in 7. If she decides to enroll in community college, she has a 50% chance of needing to take at least one remedial course.
The barriers to success are massive for our children living in poverty and our children of color. It’s easy to look at the facts, feel overwhelmed and—as we have for decades—quietly accept the status quo.
A 24-member levy advisory committee has been working for eight months to draft legislation around the levy renewal which wants the city to invest more in education. Their goal: All students in Seattle will graduate from high school ready for college and career. And it's not just Burgess and the levy committee who are excited about this levy, the Seattle School Board is too. Board Director Michael DeBell said at a Town Hall forum on TV last week that the levy would help fund early childhood learning programs in the district which are facing drastic cuts right now (the district is proposing to go from full-day to half-day kindergarten in light of a $35 million budget deficit).
The levy committee has also recommended strengthening the levy's investment in elementary education, following a report (.pdf) from the city's Office of Education which shows that levy programs are not having much impact on poor and minority elementary school students who continue to lag behind in math and reading. Levy money would also go toward at-risk students and low-performing schools, case management for struggling families, and school-based health centers. The city will be in charge of directly administering and controlling all these programs, supplementing SPS's basic academic instruction.
If you want to speak up about the levy, attend the City Council's public hearing Feb. 17, Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.