Jenny Durkan proposes free college for Seattle high school grads

File photo of Jenny Durkan

SEATTLE -- Jenny Durkan, the Seattle mayoral candidate, proposed on Monday giving graduates of Seattle public high schools free tuition.

Durkan's is calling it Seattle Promise and it would give up to two years free college tuition at any one of the state’s 34 public community or technical colleges.

“We’ve got to make them a promise, you do your part, we'll do our part,” said Durkan.

Graduates from all public high schools in Seattle, including undocumented students, would be eligible for the plan starting fall 2018, according to the proposal.

One in three low-income and students of color in Seattle do not continue education after high school, according to Durkan’s news release.

“Right now the biggest obstacle for kids is that they can't afford to go to school,” said Durkan.

The former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington said the plan would be an investment to help students complete higher education with labor market value or to make progress toward a Bachelor's degree.

"Under Seattle Promise, our kids will know they have a debt-free route to enter the workforce career-ready or pursue further studies at four-year colleges and universities," Durkan said.

The budget for the initial year of the program would be $4.3 million and then $7 million per year afterward. According to the plan, potential funding sources would include 2018 Families and Education Levy, sweetened beverage tax revenues or the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account created by Sound Transit 3.

Durkan is modeling Seattle Promise after the 13th Year Promise Scholarship Program that provides one year’s free tuition to graduates of the three public high schools in the South Seattle College district. 103 students were part of the program in the 2016-2017 school year.

The program is going into its 10th year and has relied on private donations. But in 2017 and again it 2018, the program will receive $750,000 from the City of Seattle, with the intend to cover the first year’s tuition of high school graduates in the Seattle Central and North Seattle college districts.

“You can come here your first year, don't focus on the financial aspect, focus on your academics and hopefully something will click,” said Ty Swenson, Director of Communications for South Seattle College.

Myron Ramirez graduated from Cleveland High School in 2010 andreceived a 13th Year Promise Scholarship the following year.

“It really allowed me to succeed,” said Ramirez. “Knowing that you kind of get to feel college out, to see if it’s even for you, is a huge opportunity."

Ramirez went on to the become a University of Washington graduate and immediately got job in the field of his interest, construction management.

Durkan will face urban planner Cary Moon in the the race to become Seattle's first female mayor in more than 90 years.

Moon also released a statement Monday and said Durkan's Seattle Promise plan is not enough.

In Moon's news release, she said along with free tuition, Moon wants to secure new revenue for higher education that could include a statewide tax on high-income households, provide equitable access to child care and address affordable housing, which Moon said is a root cause of inequity in Seattle education.

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