SEATTLE - Seattle city leaders are asking voters to approve the second-largest property tax-levy in Seattle history.
Supporters say it’s a needed investment.
Seattle Prop 1 replaces two existing levies.
“It impacts everything in our city, quality of life for all of us depends on a good education system,” Seattle Central College president Sheila Edwards Lang said.
The education levy is meant to close the achievement gap in Seattle Public Schools.
“We still have a lot of problems with a lot of kids especially kids of color and kids living in poverty who start school already behind,” former Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess said.
Although it may be a renewal to some extent, Seattle Prop 1 on the November ballot significantly expands educational services and it comes with a hefty price tag.
Voters are being asked to fund a whopping $638 million for the seven-year levy.
About $44 million will pay for free community college for any graduating Seattle school student who wants it, K-12 will get $230 million, and $363 million goes to expanding free preschool and Pre-K.
Lang says studies are clear early learning is a vital component to a child’s success.
“We know that early learning works, ready to learn they are on track to success,” Lang said.
But opponents say voters should say no.
“I think it's too large both in scope and in cost,” education blogger Melissa Westbrook said.
Westbrook is behind the Seattle Schools Community Forum. She's not sold on the levy specifically when it comes to more than doubling the cost for early learning when they are not serving double the kids.
“Why so much extra when we are not doubling the spaces?” Westbrook said.
The campaign in favor of Prop 1 says right now there are 1,500 kids in preschool and Pre-K and they want to increase that to 2,500 kids per year. They say extra funds are needed for one-time costs, teacher investments and capital projects to serve the early learners.
“I think they are spending too much money," Westbrook said. "It's more money than the gold standard city of Boston."
Westbrook says she is not convinced the levy will fulfill the promises made to voters, but supporters say previous levies are making a difference.
“Our program now ranks in some of the best in the United States,” Burgess said.
Burgess also promises the dollars spent would be tracked.
“Those middle schools that are levy schools actually have closed the achievement gap and outperformed middle schools across the state,” Lang said.
The ambitious levy will for the first time hold not just school districts but the city of Seattle partly accountable for the success of students ranging from preschoolers to college students.
Westbrook believes it's an overreach.
“It’s obvious to most of us who live in the city that they have not solved the housing, homelessness, traffic any of these problems that are their direct responsibility,” Westbrook said.
And she worries about tax fatigue.
“One of my big concerns is the issue of levy fatigue," she said. "We have a new property tax from the state, there is this one, and the school district will have their two levies in February."
The levies in February are coming from school districts and they are asking for funds for operations and maintenance. Westbrook says she doesn’t have issues with school district levies but she does have a big problem with Seattle’s education levy.
But supporters say they believe voters will understand the importance of it on Election Day.