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Originally published Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 5:49 PM

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Editorial: In November, make the right choice for universal pre-K in Seattle

Seattle voters have a choice this fall: a thoughtful, controlled experiment with universal preschool, or a competing union-backed measure that doesn’t even have support from local union leaders.

Seattle Times Editorial

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SEATTLE has a ripe opportunity this fall to join the city-driven universal preschool movement, so long as forward progress doesn’t get entangled in local labor politics.

The Seattle Preschool Program will be on the ballot in November. A four-year, $14.5 million-a-year property-tax levy would pay for high-quality instruction for 3- and 4-year-olds. It would have a sliding fee scale to draw in a broad socioeconomic cross-section of the city’s children, and instruction would be based on tested models elsewhere in the county.

Research in Tulsa, Okla., Boston and elsewhere have shown that high-quality instruction for the prekindergarten set provides an academic rocket boost. Mayor Ed Murray believes the city’s plan could ultimately reduce poverty and crime while raising graduation rates.

“I doubt there is anything I’ll do as mayor that will affect kids of the city more than this,” Murray said at a news conference Monday, where he was joined by former Mayor Norm Rice and other city leaders.

Convincing voters to launch this experiment is challenging enough, but a competing and conflicting measure is also on the ballot. Initiative 107, funded by SEIU Local 925 and the local American Federation of Teachers chapter, would hijack the city’s carefully formed plan.

I-107 would require Seattle to pay for care for kids up to high-school age, with weaker academic standards and a provision that seems to ensure a steady income stream to SEIU itself. For context, I-107’s mandate of about $140 million next year is more than double the annual budget of the city’s Human Services Department.

I-107 offers no way to pay a mandate so breathtakingly large that Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess estimates the city would have to cut 10 percent from other city services.

As if that’s not enough, I-107 also blows up the carefully negotiated $15 minimum-wage deal by phasing in the higher wage years sooner for child-care workers represented by SEIU.

Significantly, the King County Labor Council’s executive committee recommended an endorsement of the city’s plan and not of I-107, despite the unions’ involvement.

In November, voters have a choice: a controlled, thoughtful experiment that would improve academic readiness for the city’s kids, or a plan backed by two unions that couldn’t even get a thumbs-up from King County union leaders.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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