Guest: Proposition 1B wouldn’t help at-risk children
Seattle voters should reject City Hall’s narrow preschool experiment of Proposition 1B and support the more-comprehensive approach of Proposition 1A, writes guest columnist Rita Green.
Special to The Times
WE should not pretend Seattle Proposition 1B, City Hall’s public preschool experiment, would magically reverse the impacts of an entire childhood of poverty. Proposition 1B might do more harm than good for Seattle’s at-risk children.
Research shows that children who are exposed to poverty at a young age often have trouble academically later in life. If we’re to believe the sponsors of Proposition 1B, this “achievement gap” could be overcome by sending a few 3- and 4-years-olds to nine months of public preschool with an academic curriculum established by City Hall.
It’s poverty, not the lack of a publicly funded preschool, that’s doing the most to undermine our children’s chances at success. According to U.S. News & World Report, poverty’s damaging effects on young children can range from poor cognitive outcomes and school performance to a higher risk for anti-social behaviors and mental disorders.
If we are truly serious about overcoming the achievement gap, we need to help people escape the cycle of poverty, in part by providing parents with practical, affordable, high-quality child-care choices for children from birth to 5 years old.
City Hall’s Proposition 1B raises our property taxes to send just 6.7 percent of Seattle’s young children to preschool for 6 hours a day for a few months, and just some of those 2,000 seats are reserved for children in poverty. That’s throwing $58 million at the problem so Seattle voters, and Proposition 1B’s millionaire campaign funders, can feel like they’ve done something good for poor kids.
Finding affordable quality child care is a daunting challenge in our region, which has some of the most expensive child care in the nation. The average working mother will pay more than half of her income on full-time licensed care for a child under 18 months.
A parent might have a hard time finding a licensed center that would take her child, if she is poor enough to qualify for government child-care assistance. Many limit the number of slots for children on assistance because the government payments do not cover the true costs of insurance, food, salaries, taxes, rent and overhead. Some preschools absorb costs by raising prices for other families and cutting teacher pay. The quality of child care and preschool goes down as teachers leave (up to 40 percent leave each year) to find higher-paying jobs, and eventually center owners give up and close.
Proposition 1B does nothing to fix this rigged system, and it makes the problem worse by giving legislators another excuse to cut child-care assistance for low-income families.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concludes the best way to mediate the effects of poverty on brain development is to provide “programs that provide high quality supplementary caregiving and safe havens to vulnerable young children.” Seattle’s at-risk kids find this care at the 450 licensed family home child-care centers throughout our neighborhoods. Proposition 1B ignores the benefits these culturally appropriate centers (as well as Montessori, Waldorf and many other facilities) provide. Proposition 1B reduces parents’ choices by replacing the existing “mixed-delivery” system with a top-down, one-size-fits-all, public preschool bureaucracy. Top-down bureaucracy has not worked in the past 40 years, so why should we believe that it would work now?
To reverse, and prevent, the crushing impacts of poverty on Seattle’s young children, we should do three things:
• Provide consistent, high-quality care options for kids from birth to 5 years old;
• Make Seattle child care more affordable and accessible;
• Remove the disincentives to opening and running high-quality preschools so more children receive their benefits.
Proposition 1A, also on the ballot, requires the city to look at all of these elements and find ways to fix the broken system that traps low-income parents and their children. Unfortunately, City Hall’s Proposition 1B is an expensive experiment that could make the current situation even worse for Seattle’s low-income children.
Rita Green is the education chair of the Seattle/King County NAACP.