Voters asked to renew Seattle's Families & Ed Levy

Oct 25, 2011

As people across Washington face the deadline to pay their property taxes – Seattle is asking homeowners to consider shelling out even more next year.

The Families and Education levy is up for renewal on the November ballot … at double the cost to taxpayers. 

Seattle voters are usually more than willing to fork over tax money for public schools. However, the Families and Education Levy is a little different, because the city runs all the programs – not the school district.

“We’re able to look at the system and say, what are the gaps that need to be filled in here. What is it that could be done better that the district because of financial constraints, perhaps, isn’t able to do,” said Greg Wong, co-chair of the proposition campaign and a parent of three Seattle Public School students.

Those “gaps” filled by the levy include preschool for low-income children, health clinics in high schools and after school programs for middle school students.  If voters renew the measure, the city would provide more of those services, plus extend programs to elementary schools.

The overarching goal is to help kids graduate college and career ready.

'Look at the data ...'

Opponents say the effort falls short. Paul Guppy is a lead researcher for the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

“The campaign in favor of the levy says, you can feel good about yourself for voting for this because you’re helping kids. Then you go look at the data, or you look at the experiences that we’ve had as a parent of foster kids, and that’s not necessarily so.”

The data he’s referring to shows uneven progress in closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged students.  And while more students are graduating, nearly 1 in 5 still don’t finish school. 

Guppy says the city wouldn’t need a Families and Education Levy if the school district was doing its job.

“The voters and taxpayers are providing the funding that’s needed.  But that funding is not being used effectively by the Seattle school district, because only 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom.”

'All need to be involved'

Yet Wong says the Families and Education Levy isn’t a referendum on school district. It goes beyond the district’s mission.  

“We can’t just delegate it to one group and say, ok school district that’s your job, you take care of it. It’s something that all citizens need to be involved in if we’re going to create a system that’s successful.”

If voters decide to keep supporting the levy’s goals, it’ll hike the average homeowner’s taxes by $120 dollars a year. The expanded effort will cost nearly as much as the last three Families and Education levies combined.