Seattle voters have opted to raise their property taxes to pay for a city-subsidized voluntary preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

The initiative, backed by the city’s mayor and council, creates a pilot program that offers subsidized preschool on a sliding scale, with free tuition for families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

“It makes us a more equitable city,” Mayor Ed Murray told the Seattle Times. “It’s an opportunity to actually do something about the dramatic differences in education outcomes between children of color and Caucasian children, poor children and children who come from wealthier families.”

With President Obama’s call for “universal preschool” – expanding access to preschool for all 4-year-olds regardless of income – stalling at the federal level, early childhood education advocates are looking to build on the momentum happening at the local and state levels. Seattle now joins cities including San Francisco, Denver and New York in expanding preschool opportunities for low-income children.

The tax hike creates a $58 million levy over four years, costing the owner of a Seattle home valued at $400,000 about $43 a year. City officials say the program will ultimately help 2,000 children get a six-hour-a-day “high quality” preschool experience during the school year. The plan, which got 67 percent of the vote, beat out a competing union-backed initiative to establish a $15 minimum wage for childcare workers.

 

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