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Free community college for Seattle graduates one step closer to reality

Mayor Jenny Durkan's campaign pledge of free community college tuition for every high school graduate in Seattle, took a step forward on Wednesday with the signing of a partnership agreements between the City of Seattle, the Seattle School District and North Seattle College. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - The Seattle Promise, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s campaign pledge of free community college tuition for every high school graduate in Seattle, took a step forward on Wednesday.

Mayor Durkan signed partnership agreements between the City of Seattle, the Seattle School District and North Seattle College.

But, there is still questions on where nearly $7 million that’s needed to keep the program running every year will come from.

The Seattle Promise Program will provide two years of free tuition, valued at nearly $4,000 a year, to any of the three Seattle Colleges, regardless of grades or income.

An expansion of the 13th Year Promise Scholarship is currently underway for graduates of Cleveland, Chief Stealth, Rainier Beach, West Seattle, Garfield and Ingraham High Schools.

By the fall of 2019, all high school graduates at every high school in the Seattle School District will be eligible for the free tuition program.

The program will build on the success of the South Seattle College 13th Year Scholarship program.

The mayor’s office said a critical component of the program will be outreach and support services for students at both high schools and colleges, including a college readiness academy at each high school and college.

But Durkan admits, final funding for the program has not been finalized.

“We are going to be looking at a range of sources and we are still working with the council on that,” Durkan said after the signing.

She said funding could come from the new Soda Tax implemented in January, the general fund, the existing property tax-funded education levy and education funds that were part of the Sound Transit 3 tax package.

Seattle is also considering trying another attempt at the employee tax on large businesses, which could become a source of funding as well.

Durkan believes a sustainable revenue source will be found.

“The relative costs for where we spend our money in this city, this one is in my estimation, it’s a no brainer," she said.

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