A New Chapter for Seattle Public High Schools

Amelia Hewson | publishinghaus

Ava L., Junior

When education comes at high price, it can challenging for lower-income families to afford tuition. Early this November, Seattle Mayor, Jenny Durkan, attempted to tackle this widespread issue by turning a new chapter for the Seattle Public School District. Durkan announced the start of the Seattle Promise College Tuition program, an education levy that grants Seattle Public School graduates two free years of community college regardless of their family income. This program, known as the Promise Levy, is an expansion from the current Promise Scholarship Program that only provided a year of community college tuition and was funded exclusively through private donations. In contrast, the new program will not only grant two years of tuition, but will also be funded through local taxes.

The goal of the Promise Levy is to encourage all high schoolers to receive a higher education, without financial factors inhibiting their academic potential. Two years at a community college would enable a student to either receive an associates degree or transfer to a four-year college as a junior, saving them from paying full two-years of tuition. According to the College Board, the average tuition for a private college is $34,000, while that for a public institution is $25,000. For the overwhelming majority of American citizens, such costs are undoubtedly unaffordable, as they match many family’s annual income. Consequently, the lower-class Americans are forced to go directly into the workforce after high school. Thus, by alleviating this economic obstacle more students will be able to attain a professional occupation, enhancing the economy and their standard of living. Durkan, the Seattle Mayor, similarly stated, “the best answer and solution is right here in the communities that we have, and that is mostly the kids right here. As we invent the changing economy in Seattle, I want to make sure our school system gets to be as connected as possible so that we have the next generation of leaders.”

The first five high schools to be covered by the program with be Ingraham, Garfield, Chief Sealth, Cleveland, Rainier Beach, and West Seattle. Other public schools within the district will receive the benefits of this new initiative by 2020. According to Durkan’s policy advisor, Chris Alejano, the only population that may not qualify for the Promise Levy is Seattle’s charter schools. Nonetheless, large majority of public school students are set to have access to the program for the next seven years. By the end of the program’s duration, in 2024, the Seattle College Foundation is hoping to have formed an endowment that will keep the program funding for the years following. The property tax measures for the Promise Levy is estimated to cost $620 million in the next seven years. As of October 10th, $299,275 had been raised, the majority of which came from Amazon and Mariners board member, Chris Larson. Although the Promise Levy offers numerous beneficial outcomes, there remains discussion about the levy’s source of funding- taxes.

For parents already paying a costly tuition for their child to attend a private high school, a tax increase that doesn’t benefit their own student may be upsetting. Aside from sales tax, a Seattle homeowner with the city’s median assessed value ($665,000) is predicted to pay $20 a month to fund the levy. For the average family at Northwest, this monthly tax would far exceed $20.

Durkan herself mentioned that it would be a challenge to persuade most Seattleites that the tax increase is a solution to the city’s growing income inequality. Additionally, for private schools students on scholarship looking to attend community college, the inability to access this grant will undoubtedly be problematic.

Ultimately, this new chapter for Seattle Public Schools has a very promising outcome for future generations, but a questionable one for taxpayers and those who don’t qualify for the grant.

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