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Is I-107 good for Seattle preschools or for unions (or both)?

Voters will decide between two initiatives to improve the quality of preschools in Seattle this November – one without a clear source of funding that may also directly benefit unions.

Heather Weiner, spokesperson for Yes for Early Success campaign, told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz Show that Initiative 107 is very different from the city’s plan.

“It addresses the citywide childcare crisis of the lack of affordable childcare for all children, ages zero to school age, and it also addresses the quality of that childcare,” Weiner said.

While the City Council’s proposal clearly explains its plan would be funded by a property tax, the details of union-backed I-107 aren’t so clear.

“We think this would cost as little as $3 million a year,” Weiner said. “Much of that money can come from existing funds, whether it’s the existing education levy or leveraging private, federal, and state monies that are already out there.”

The true cost of mandates set by the City Council and an institution aimed at educating preschool and childcare teachers depends on the benchmarks that would be set by a board appointed by Mayor Ed Murray and teachers.

“If we want to continue to attract professionals and continue to have a growing, healthy city, we need to make sure childcare is affordable and high quality,” Weiner said.

In order to ensure that high quality care, Weiner emphasized the significance of giving teachers a way to educate themselves. Currently, she said there’s no clear mandate for continuing their education, so building an institution to meet that need is a high priority.

“Do you acknowledge that the likelihood of the union benefiting as an organization is extremely high under I-107?” Rantz asked.

“The only benefit is that it might get a contract in order to administer the program,” Weiner said.

“The likelihood would be rather high that they get the contract, right?” Rantz asked.

“Yes, I’m not going to spin you on that one,” Weiner said. “Yes it is. However, it’s not a benefit in the terms of ‘oh they’re getting a whole bunch of members.’ It’s a benefit in terms of they get a contract to administer a program for a bunch of members.”

Weiner likens it to Costco backing the privatized liquor initiative and she opened it up to other entities who would be willing to provide more training to teachers.

“It’s not about pushing the unions,” she said. “The reason childcare providers and teachers have been pushing this initiative, why dozens have endorsed I-107, why 30,000 people have signed our citizen’s initiative is because we think this is a major crisis in Seattle. We just need have a standardized system for these 4,500 childcare providers.”

Also at issue is that I-107 would raise the minimum wage for childcare providers one year sooner than the proposal the City Council has adopted.

“Childcare centers are supporting this (because) they don’t want to lose teachers to Costco, Target, or McDonald’s,” Weiner said. “They want to keep their teachers. Turnover is 38 percent among some childcare teachers.”

She explained I-107 would impact only the largest centers with 500 or more employees in the first year.

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