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- Not so fast, universal preschool pushers. Here's an argument in favor of Prop 1A.
The Seattle League of Women Voters, the NAACP of Seattle/King County, Working Washington, and the Economic Opportunity Institute say we should vote for Prop 1A and send Prop 1B's plan for universal preschool back to the drawing board. Here’s why:
The Prop 1B campaign is paid for by wealthy conservative donors who have funded efforts to bring publicly funded, for-profit charter schools to our community.
More than 70 percent of Prop 1B’s campaign coffers are from ultra-rich backers who also fund Republicans and conservative initiatives. Prop 1B’s funder list include names like Bezos, Nordstrom, Ballmer, Griffin, Larson, Gates—the same folks who paid for I-1240, the state’s charter school initiative, and helped defeat I-1098, the high earner income tax.
With a funder list like this, it should be no surprise that the Prop 1B campaign is using scare tactics to pull voters from Prop 1A. Prop 1B’s attack ads use claims that reporters have called everything from speculation to obfuscation, threatening voters with cuts in police, fire, and transportation if the preschool-teacher-backed Prop 1A is approved.
The endorser list for Prop 1B is also worrisome, including corporations and businesses that oppose minimum wage hikes, like the Chamber of Commerce and Alaska Airlines. Sure, the YMCA and other nonprofits have endorsed 1B, but for many it’s a self-preservation strategy because they apply for existing and new levy funds. And yes, The Stranger endorsed Prop 1B on the premise that we should do something, anything, to help poor kids. But is that really what 1B does?
Prop 1B would cost Seattle taxpayers 58 million dollars over the next four years for an experimental pilot program that covers only 6.7 percent of Seattle's kids under 5.
Rather than improve the existing system of 750 child-care centers and preschools already serving 20,000 of Seattle’s youngest kids, Prop 1B sets up a new top-down scheme for a limited number of children. Prop 1B doesn’t create new preschool seats, and may just move them around.
Under Prop 1B’s proposal, only some of the slots will be for poor or very-low-income families. For the lucky few low-income children who make it into the 1B program, there may not be as many benefits as advertised.
Because the first two years of a child's life are critical to development, plopping a handful of vulnerable 4-year-olds into a nine-month academic program may not overcome the serious impacts on the brain of a childhood of poverty and instability. A 4-year-old’s brain is 85 percent developed by the time she gets into a 1B preschool, and the benefits of a short-term curriculum set by city hall could be temporary at best.
Prop 1B could make matters worse by giving Seattle’s well-meaning voters, and legislators in OIympia, the feeling that we’ve done something good for poor kids and can move on to other matters.
Prop 1A takes a smarter, more efficient approach by setting up a framework to improve the quality and affordability of existing child-care centers and preschools in Seattle. Seattle’s 750 licensed centers already take care of our kids from the time they are infants until they are ready to board a school bus. Prop 1A helps set standards and quality improvements to the existing centers, instead of inventing an entirely new, expensive system for a limited number of children.
Seattle's kids are already hurt by a high turnover rate among child-care teachers (18 percent) and assistant teachers (38 percent), but Prop 1B would drive out experienced teachers by requiring specialized bachelors’ degrees, causing even more kids to lose their teachers.
One of the biggest problems is not the lack of teachers with specialized academic degrees; it’s that too many teachers leave for higher-paying jobs. High turnover is directly linked to lower-quality care, with researchers reporting decreased emotional and language development in children.
Almost 20 percent of teachers, and another 40 percent of assistant teachers, leave their jobs each year because the pay is awful. Early educators in Seattle make between $11 and $14 an hour, even with decades of experience. When the new minimum wage law goes into effect, many early educators will be able to make more at McDonald's and Target. Prop 1A helps retain high-quality care for kids by raising the minimum wage for all of Seattle’s early educators to $15 an hour, one year faster than the city’s plan.
Although Prop 1B advocates say its 100 teachers will make the same as public kindergarten teachers, it won’t help the other 4,400 early educators here. Few existing centers, and none of the in-home family centers, will be able to meet Prop 1B’s requirements, such as hiring only teachers with hard-to-find bachelors’ degrees in Early Childhood Education.
Besides, where are those 2,000 kids going to go? Seattle’s public schools are already overcrowded, and preschoolers need special facilities, like bathrooms away from the big kids. The Prop 1B solution may be to give public funds to big and for-profit entities like YMCA and Bright Horizons, who can easily convert existing private preschool classrooms into publicly funded private preschool classrooms and replace their experienced teachers with new graduates with specialized degrees. If 1B just converts existing centers into 1B preschools, then it's not creating new seats, just moving the chairs around.
Finally, Prop 1B does nothing to address the skyrocketing cost of child care that burdens so many Seattle families, especially single moms.
Seattle parents face two challenges: finding affordable housing and finding affordable child care. In fact, licensed child care is often more expensive than rent, costing $1,500 a month for a child in diapers. For the average single mother here, that’s more than half of her monthly paycheck, leaving little for food and other essentials.
The high cost of child care exacerbates wage inequality by forcing working women to take fewer hours and less responsibility or leave their kids in the care of neighbors or relatives.
Prop 1A gets the ball rolling on finding a solution to this affordability crisis by directing city hall to convene a task force of experts to look at what other cities, like Denver, San Francisco, and Chicago, have done and then make recommendations to the city council. Prop 1B does nothing to address this problem, and by offering only six hours per day of care, it puts more pressure on working parents to scramble to find before-and-after-preschool child care.
Sally Soriano, M.S. Ed, is a former Seattle School Board member.