Not all victory parties were held on Election Night. 14 hours after results showing a big win (69 percent approval) for the city Families, Education, Preschool, Promise levy, Mayor Jenny Durkan returned to South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) in West Seattle to lead a celebratory event.
She spoke at Cascade Hall, same place she appeared one year ago – on her second day in office – to announce her plan to expand the 10-year-old “free college” 13th Year Promise program, which she said at the time might be levy-funded (as noted in our 2017 coverage), and it subsequently became part of the FEPP levy, which combined two expiring levies, the Seattle Preschool Program levy and Families and Education Levy.
Surrounded by city and education leaders, the mayor began, “I’m here to say thank you!” She said she had been inspired by meeting 13th Year Promise scholars at SSC and wanting to make that program available to more. With this levy, “We did it.” She gave a “big shoutout” to Seattle Public Schools, whose new superintendent Denise Juneau was there for the announcement, as well as the SPS Board of Directors, whose Zack DeWolf and Jill Geary were there. Plus: Councilmembers Lorena González and Rob Johnson, former Councilmember and interim Mayor Tim Burgess, who evangelized the Preschool Program that also was folded in. (Burgess was called “the godfather” of that proposal when it was announced at a High Point event in 2014.)
“I want to thank Seattle … time and time again, when it matters, our city steps up to invest in the future,” the mayor reiterated before yielding the podium, describing the result as “even more tools to close the opportunity gap.” Burgess was next at the podium, calling the passage a “huge win” and saying he is “deeply grateful to the voters of Seattle. … We believe in all of our children and making sure they’re successful.”
Following him, Councilmember González said she is a product of the community-college system, having gone for 2 years in the Yakima area before continuing her education career, and also “the beneficiary of subsidized pre-K” because her family was migrant farmworkers. “You too could someday be a civil rights lawyer and city councilmember,” she said to the students and aspiring students in the room. “… The voters once again showed us they are generous … and that they see the value of these investments.” She said that taxpayers “paying a little more (will) get a huge return on their investment,” and that the levy will include help for students and their families experiencing homelessness. “It is a very huge deal. … We have received a mandate from the people of Seattle .. we are ready to get to work, to put your dollars to work.”
She was followed by Councilmember Johnson, noting that the city has made investments in Seattle Public Schools going back to 1990.
Then Anthony Garcia, a Promise scholar and Cleveland High School graduate as well as the son of Guatemalan immigrants, spoke. He said having the opportunity to go to the college tuition-free “is a blessing” and that students have “remarkable” support. “You have to capitalize on the opportunity.” He had high praise for the SSC programs and staff, saying he’s “a part of something great. … Who would give students free college?”
CM González behind him: “Seattle would!”
Next to speak, Seattle Colleges chancellor Shouan Pan. “Clearly, the voters have spoken … for equitable education for Seattle residents. … This vote is really a vote for investing in education … really K through 14.” He offered a little more explanatory information, saying that the program will expand to all Seattle public high schools by 2020. He promised the program would be “flexible” and that “we will not disappoint.” They also will raise a “significant endowment” in support of “this work”: “We need help” with that. (The 13th Year Promise program, explained here, has been supported by fundraising since it was launched at SSC in 2008.)
“Wow, Seattle, I love my new city!” exclaimed SPS Superintendent Juneau, speaking next. “We know that an investment in children is an investment in our future.” She noted that her own personal story – tracing back to the Blackfeet reservation – is about education. She said she looked forward to “partnership with the city … (to) achieve great things for our kids.”
When the mayor opened the floor to questions, there was only one. Student Andy Garcia had a question for the mayor – not related to the program. He wondered about city employees “trained in social engineering.” Durkan said that her staff was focused on “serv(ing) the people of Seattle” and while she didn’t see it as “social engineering,” she saw the importance of city staff being trained in equity and understanding “what (city residents) are going through.” She described it as “social vision.”
And with that, the event concluded, and the Cascade Hall lobby emptied, with dignitaries and students headed out to the rest of their day.
MORE INFO: For more information on the levy, you can read the fact sheet here and the full levy text here. The mayor’s post-event news release, just in as we finish this story, summarizes the levy as:
· Expand the popular and highly successful Seattle Preschool Program, increasing eligibility to all of Seattle’s 3 and 4-year-olds, and growing by more than 65 percent over seven years to serve 2,500 children in the 2025-26 school year.
· Provide child-care vouchers targeted towards families currently experiencing homelessness so that children can attend a program while families complete housing and stabilization needs.
· Support K-12 school health investments and adds three new school-based health clinics to increase access to compressive medical and mental health care and other services to promote early intervention, prevention and treatment of other health-related barriers to learning success.
· Increase K-12 and community investments that offer supplemental services focused on closing opportunity gaps, for highest needs students, and communities with a focus on college access and job readiness.
· Expand the Seattle Promise College Tuition Program, created by Mayor Durkan: beginning in fall 2019 all Seattle Public Schools graduates will be eligible for two years (90 credits) of tuition at any of the Seattle Colleges. Students that have other financial needs (books, materials, living, childcare, etc.) will have access to funding support as needed depending on eligibility.
ADDED: Our video of the SSC event: