By next year, the roughly 30 preschool and child care programs around greater Capitol Hill could start benefiting from a bold city plan to extend affordable, high quality preschool to every three and four year old in the city.
Calling it “the most important thing I’ll ever do as mayor,” Mayor Ed Murray unveiled his universal pre-k plan earlier this month. Friday, the City Council’s preschool committee — yup, we have one of those — will pick up the cause. Out of the roughly 12,300 preschool-aged kids in the city, between a quarter and a third are not enrolled in any type of formal preschool program. A “gap analysis” study released by the city in January showed poor children and children of color are vastly underserved. There is also a need for child care in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill where some residential enclaves are chock full of youngsters but offer only a limited number of child care slots.
Capacity in the neighborhood will also be diminished next year when St. Mark’s ends its 22-year-old preschool program in June. Rev. Steve Thomason told CHS that despite the preschool consistently operating at full capacity with roughly 20 students, the 4-hour program was too short to meet the needs families with two working parents. To expand the program would’ve required additional permitting and staff. “It just wasn’t a vital enough ministry for us,” Thomason said, adding that he wasn’t sure if Murray’s plan would’ve helped keep the program alive.
They mayor’s plan includes a four-year $58 million levy to fund a “demonstration phase” of the Seattle Preschool Program, which would aim to get 2,000 children into 100 classrooms by 2018. The funds would be dispersed through Seattle Public Schools as well as community providers, and would be completely voluntary for providers and participants.
Among the biggest hurdles to getting kids in preschool is cost. Murray’s plan would provide free tuition for families with a household income above 200% of the poverty line. A sliding scale fee would be used for those making over 200%, giving most faimlies in the city some subsidy for pre-K education.
If all goes according to plan, the City Council will approve the levy ballot measure this summer so it can go before voters in November. The City Council is then expected to vote on the implementation plan early next year.
In the meantime there are several upcoming meetings the council is holding on the plan, including a public meeting on Beacon Hill:
Select Committee on Preschool for All
Fri, May 23, 2014, 12pm
Committee on Preschool for All – Special Meeting – PUBLIC HEARING
Thu, May 29, 2014, 5:30pm
Jefferson Community Center
Select Committee on Preschool for All
Fri, May 30, 2014, 12pm
The average child reimbursement will be $10,700 per student. According to the gap analysis, that’s a realistic cost, especially given the more rigorous teacher and curriculum goals.
The annual per‐child rates for preschool care in center‐based settings range between $11,300 for providers serving children with subsidies and $14,700 for those that do not serve children with subsidies. For family child care providers, the range is between $8,200 and $10,600.
Other notes on the plan:
- The maximum class size would be set at 20, with a ratio of 1 adult for every 10 children.
- Priority funding for tuition will be given to eligible families already enrolled in a program
- Providers will be required to adopted an approved curriculum
- Staff will be required to meet specific experience requirements
- The city will set standards and outcome targets
In April, Murray was in the Central District as part of a series of community meetings to discuss preschool needs.
Where those new pre-k classrooms will be located is still up in the air, but the planned community space to be included in development around the centrally located Capitol Hill light rail station might provide one opportunity. According to a community survey, respondents said child care and preschool were among the services they’d like to see in the new Transit Oriented Development sites.