I'm not sure most audience members caught the significance, but the only real news generated by last night's Seattle Human Services Coalition 2013 candidate forum came from the lips of city council member Sally Bagshaw, when she matter-of-factly stated: "You know that we are going to have an initiative next year to support universal preschool."
Of course, I suspected we'd have a vote next year, but the casual nature of Bagshaw's comment suggests that one of the three remaining questions may have already been settled: How will we pay for citywide universal preschool? A dedicated property tax levy. For what else would require a vote of the people?
The legislation enables the City Council, working with the City’s Office for Education and local experts providing early learning opportunities, to accomplish the following over the next 6 to 9 months:
Perform a Gap Analysis to determine how many 3 and 4 year olds are not currently enrolled in high-quality preschool.
Develop cost estimates and funding options for such a plan.
What will the program look like, and how much will it cost? Those are the remaining questions facing the council. The former isn't really all that much in question, considering that our program will be based on well-established state and national guidelines. And the cost, well, that's mostly straightforward too—the guidelines pretty much dictate the cost-per-student, so the rest is a calculation based on how many preschoolers we expect to serve, and how generous our sliding scale subsidies are for middle class families. (The cost is also affected by how well we pay our teachers, but if adhered to honestly, the guidelines should dictate salaries comparable to those in public schools.)
Council support for the general outline of the proposal appears to be unanimous, and both mayoral candidates have publicly voiced their support. So after years of pissing into the wind on this issue (remember the latte tax?), Seattle-wide high quality universal early education now seems all but inevitable. Which in terms of real world impact, I'd have to say is the most exciting and encouraging development I've seen in the decade I've been paying close attention to local politics.