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How can Jenny Durkan pay for free Seattle college?

Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan’s proposal to send Seattle’s high school graduates to college would cost millions, prompting many to ask: Where is this money going to come from?

RELATED: Durkan proposes free college plan for Seattle

Durkan’s Seattle Promise proposal would pay community college tuition for students who graduate from a Seattle public school. She estimates it will help about 700 young people each year. It will cost between $4.3 to $5 million in its first year, according to Durkan, and $7 million annually after that. The Seattle Times reports that annual community college tuition for one student in Washington is $3,936.

In a press conference announcing her bold plan, Durkan said that the college funding is already within reach of the city’s current budget — no new revenue sources needed.

The mayoral candidate didn’t give specifics as to how exactly the money is already available, but did mention a few potential sources Seattleites are familiar with.

  • Family and Education Levy: Seattle’s Family and Education Levy is a property tax that has been repeatedly approved since the 1990s. The current levy funds $235 million over a seven-year period — through the 2018-19 school year. Durkan notes that the next mayor will be in charge of crafting how the levy will continue beyond 2019, and what programs will sell it to voters. The Family and Education Levy is not spearheaded by the school district, but the city. It pays for a range of education-related purposes, such as health services, summer programs, and early childhood learning programs. 
  • Seattle Soda Tax: The recently-passed Seattle soda tax places a .0175 per ounce tax on sweetened beverages such as sodas, sweetened teas, and sports drinks. It is paid for by distributors. It is aimed at decreasing youth consumption of unhealthy drinks. The council and the mayor also sold the tax as a means of raising money for educational purposes. Seattle estimates it will raise $23 million its first year, and then $18 million annually.
  • Sound Transit 3: Perhaps the most confusing point of funding. After all, Sound Transit 3 is largely meant for what its name implies — transit. But part of the program that was passed in 2016 is a tax slated for educational purposes. According to the ST3 proposal, the money is to be used toward educational outcomes in early learning, K-12 and higher education. ST3 also states that tax dollars raised from counties are to be used in those counties — so in this case King County. Money raised from Pierce County cannot be used for purposes in Snohomish, for example. The counties are responsible for tracking the educational money that comes from ST3. Durkan would have to negotiate with county officials to reserve some of that funding for her college plan.



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