- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - Two Seattle ballot proposals that could both benefit thousands of preschool children are competing against each other for voter attention, and some supporters worry neither will pass.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray had universal preschool on his agenda before he was elected in 2013. A group of preschool advocates has been working locally and statewide toward the same goal for many years.

When the two sat down to craft a proposal to make affordable, high quality preschool available to more children in Seattle, they failed to reach a compromise, so competing propositions appear on the November ballot.

The proposal supported by the mayor and the city council - Proposition 1B - would establish a new local property tax to pay for a pilot program that aims to make education free for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families and would subsidize preschool for others. It would also put money into teacher training and try to help more schools reach the state quality standards.

The other plan - Proposition 1A - would take money out of the city’s existing budget. It would be used for teacher training and for a study on how to make preschool more affordable for all. It has a much lower price tag but no new funding source.

On the ballot, Seattle voters are asked to decide whether they want to see a new preschool program in their city. Then they are asked to choose just one of the two proposals.

“My fear is that this is going to go down. That they’re going to vote no on both,” said Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the Proposition 1A campaign.

Her group, started by preschool workers and managers but financially supported by several powerful labor unions, filed a lawsuit to get the two proposals separated on the ballot but lost that battle.

Weiner says they were hoping voters would have voted yes on both ideas.

Both Weiner and Sandeep Kaushik, spokesman for the Proposition B campaign, are worried about confused voters.

“The way the ballot measure is constructed … adds to the confusion,” Kaushik said.

Although both groups say their proposal focuses on preschool access and quality, Kaushik said they are very different, from the way they are funded to their approach to improving both quality and access.

Kaushik challenges the voters to give the city’s plan a try, promising they have another chance in four years to decide whether the pilot should continue.

The state Department of Early Learning has worked closely with the city of Seattle to set up their plan, but the department has no official position on the choice facing Seattle voters, according to department spokeswoman Amy Blondin.

“The opportunity for enhanced access to preschool is exciting, so long as it’s high quality,” she said.

The director of the Community Day Center for Children in Seattle’s Central District thinks Proposition IA will help more children but she says her first choice would have been one proposal that included the best elements of both Proposition IA and IB.

“This is really sad and confusing for the voters of Seattle,” said Lois Martin, who is also a member of the state Early Learning Advisory Council. “My fear is that early learning will be placed on the back burner until next election.”

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