Property Tax Referendum

In November of 2014, Seattle voters approved a referendum to increase property taxes to allow for 11 cents per $1,000 in assessed value to fund the operation of the Seattle Preschool Program. The increase is estimated to provide about $14.5 million per year for four years for a total of $58.2 million. In practice, homeowners with a home worth $400,000 pay an additional $43 per year.


Seattle Children Not Reading at Grade-Level by Third Grade


Seattle Children Attending Full-Day Preschool According to Citywide Poll


Seattle Children Enrolled in Half-Day Preschool Program According to Citywide Poll


Failed Attempt in 2003

Seattle tried a similar initiative financed by a 10 cent tax on espresso drinks (dubbed the “latte tax”). The lesson learned from the 2003 effort was to use a broad-based levy, not a levy that was product specific.

Complicated Proposition

Seattle faced two propositions related to creating a preschool initiative. Each side waged a campaign. Proposition 1B contained an o set to pay for the initiative; Proposition 1A did not.

Ongoing Challenge

The City Council Ordinance called for a mixed delivery model. Initial implementation appears primarily school-based. Even after approval, it is important to continue to engage in implementation efforts to ensure that the initiative is implemented in alignment with the Ordinance.

Getting to Action

The initiative was spearheaded by the Children’s Alliance and their coalition, the Early Learning Action Alliance, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, the University of Washington and Seattle business leaders. The key was obtaining support (and leadership) from the Mayor. City Council support spurred the preparation needed to inform a pathway to approve a citywide preschool program (i.e., a gap analysis, polling action plan).

Sept 2013Seattle City Council adopted Resolution 31478 supporting a voluntary preschool program. The resolution called for a gap analysis and an action plan.
Feb 2014The Gap Analysis Report was presented to the City Council.
May 2014Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed an Action Plan (a program proposal combined with a financing mechanism).
June 2014 The Seattle City Council approved the Mayor’s plan (Ordinance 124509), which included a special election on November 4, 2014, a proposition to li the limit on regular property taxes and authorized a four-year pilot program.
Nov 2014Proposition 1B won approval with 67 percent of the vote, authorizing the preschool pilot serving 2,000 children in 100 classrooms by 2018 and the 11 cent property tax increase to fund the program.


Seattle is funding a voluntary full-day preschool program for three- and four-year-olds that began in September of 2015. Tuition is free for families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, with a sliding fee scale for families earning more than 300 percent of the poverty level. Teachers receive on-site curriculum support and on-site training based on need, including best practices in inclusion, bilingual education, cultural competence and classroom management. The program is authorized for four years and is expected to serve 2,000 children.

Tuition is free for families earning less than 300% of the federal poverty level.

Keys to Success

Mayor and City Council championed the initiative

Initiative was time-limited (not in perpetuity)—a four year pilot program

The measure was paid for and the revenue source was broad-based (all property tax owners)

A first step was passing a resolution to gauge support by elected officials

The resolution called for material to help make the case moving forward (i.e. gap analysis)

Polling showed high support

A broad-based advocacy effort/coalition assisted in waging a campaign in support of the Proposition

Sufficient fundraising was in place to launch an issue-based campaign

Photo By Kyle Stokes / KPLU