Seattle voters will see two competing child care initiatives on their fall ballots.
A proposal from the mayor and City Council would create a subsidized preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds.
A measure sponsored by two unions would increase pay and training requirements for all child care workers in Seattle.
KUOW’s Ann Dornfeld talked to two child care center directors who are taking different sides in this election.
It’s lunchtime at the Community Day School Association on Beacon Hill.
A teacher urges a small boy to eat at least half of the yogurt his dad packed for him.
Child: “I ate three more bites!”
Teacher: “Thank you for doing that.”
Community Day School has been around since the ‘70s.
It has nine branches at elementary schools in central and south Seattle.
Executive Director Brianna Jackson says many of its families have city or state preschool subsidies.
But there aren’t enough subsidies to go around.
Brianna Jackson: “For us as a provider, we really see the struggle of our working families on a day-to-day basis. We see the need for access. We see the need for care. But we also see the need for quality.”
Both the union and city plans promise to improve the quality of child care.
But Jackson says she likes how specific the city was in its plan for subsidized preschool – from teacher qualifications to curriculum.
Proposition 1B would provide subsidized preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds beginning next year.
Tuition would be free for a family of four making up to about $72,000 a year.
Wealthier families would pay on a sliding-scale basis.
The subsidies would be funded by a property tax levy of $43 a year for the average Seattle homeowner.
Jackson likes that unlike the union proposal, the city plan has a funding mechanism.
She also likes the curricula the city has proposed.
Brianna Jackson: “Just like kids, I mean, our teachers, I think, need structure. And we need a framework of where are we going, how do we set goals? And once we do that, we can be super creative about what we offer in the classroom and what we do.”
The city preschool plan would also require that teachers at participating providers have bachelor’s degrees or be working toward degrees.
Jackson says some Community Day School teachers have BAs, but not all.
Brianna Jackson: “So for us that would be a leap. I think that’s the biggest thing that we’ve been thinking about is, OK, the education, how really will this proposition address that, and how can we as an organization be provided with some resources to help our teachers get there.”
The city’s preschool pilot program would be small.
In its final year, it would serve only 2,000 3- and 4-year-olds.
That’s just a small fraction of preschool-aged kids citywide.
But Jackson says so many families have trouble affording preschool that every little bit helps.
Brianna Jackson: “People are just like, ‘Well, it’s not enough.’ Well, it may not be enough right now, but it’s some. I’d rather start somewhere and start impacting families now and kids now and get the ball rolling and learn from the experience so we can expand it, versus just not doing anything.”
Frank Keown: “Muffins? Yum! Were they yummy?”
Across town, in Queen Anne, another mealtime is underway.
Fran Keown: “I have puffins on my shirt, yeah. That rhymes with muffins.”
Fran Keown is executive co-director of Kidspace.
Keown says she’s excited to see the city looking at ways to improve early learning opportunities.
Fran Keown: “I like that the city’s interested in early childhood education. That’s a big step. I’ve been in the field a long time. So just the fact that the issue’s on the ballot, that it’s being talked about, is a very positive thing.”
But Keown prefers the child care proposal from the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Teachers.
The two unions represent many of Seattle’s child care workers.
Their measure would require more training for all providers through a division run jointly by the city and an outside organization.
It would direct the city to find ways to make child care more affordable for Seattle families.
Keown says she likes that the union’s Prop 1A would apply to every child care center in the city and for kids of all ages.
Fran Keown: “Y’know, all this research these days, zero-to-three, and brain research, and how important it is the type of care that’s provided to children that age. And our center serves kids starting at three months. Prop 1B is focused more on 3- and 4-year-olds, and 1A talks about the whole field.”
The union measure would also increase the minimum wage for child care workers to $15 an hour ahead of the citywide minimum wage increase.
Fran Keown: “Staff turnover is a big issue in this field. And raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, quicker, makes a big difference in this field and will keep people here long term. That’s important. That’s definitely one of the bigger problems.”
By comparison, Keown says the city’s requirement for bachelor’s degrees at the preschool level would put her center in the awkward position of requiring different qualifications for teachers of 3- and 4-year-olds – and paying them more than other teachers.
Keown also likes that the union measure wouldn’t require child care centers to use a city-selected curriculum.
She says at Kidspace, the children’s interests shape the curriculum.
Like when the city was installing a stoplight outside the center, the kids were fascinated.
Keown says instead of treating it as a distraction, the teachers turned it into a lesson.
Fran Keown: “We have a very specific educational philosophy and curriculum and we believe strongly in it. And we’re not looking for anybody to tell us to use some pre-prescribed curriculum.”
Keown says that’s a big reason why, if the city’s preschool plan passes, Kidspace won’t sign up to be a provider.
Voters ended up with competing child care measures after the unions weren’t able to convince the city to include the elements the unions wanted in the city’s plan.
Fran Keown: “Which is too bad because I think, combined, the two could really have worked well together.”
Instead, Seattle voters have choose between the two propositions, or enact neither.
For more KUOW elections coverage, visit the Election Connection page.