On Your Ballot: King County Initiative Best Starts For Kids

By Andrew A. Jay
Photo courtesy of heckmanequation.org

A couple weeks ago I was kindly invited to the Community Development Round Table to hear County Executive Dow Constantine speak about his latest initiative: Best Starts For Kids (Proposition 1). Here is ten things I learned (and why you should vote for it):

1) Best Starts is about giving a better start for the children who are the most vulnerable. Those that were unlucky and born into the families with the least amount of resources.

2) Best Starts is actually a crime prevention initiative. If you invest in a child when they are young (or in the parents while they are pregnant) that child is far less likely to spend time in jail as an adult or require expensive social services such as drug abuse or mental health counseling.

3) Best Starts focuses heavily on babies – children age 0-18 months – through home visits and parent coaching (if you want to know what this could look like check out Harlem Children Zone’s Baby College or more locally the perinatal services organization Open Arms).

4) Best Starts is low cost. It actually is a small bill – the proposed levy rate is 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. It would raise about $65 million per year and cost the average King County property owner an estimated $56 per year. That’s about the cost of 1 Theo’s chocolate bar a month. Tiny compared to the $1 billion dollar transportation package that is on the ballot.

5) Best Starts is NOT a universal preschool initiative. Unlike the Seattle Preschool Program which we voted on last fall this initiative does not fund subsidized preschool. The bulk of the investment is spent on pregnant women, children 0-2 and middle school youth.

6) Best Starts aims to save local school districts money by investing in children with learning disabilities. A portion of Prop. 1 funds programs that help identify children with learning disabilities so that educators and social workers can intervene early. Since early intervention can help a child avoid spending time in special ed during their K-12 years this could end up saving school districts in King County a lot of money. Kindering is a great example of an organization that does this work well.

7) Best Starts works to sustain the early childhood investment by supporting kids during their middle school years – 35% of the funding is for drug abuse and depression prevention for teens. This actually was a breath of fresh air, as a former middle and high school educator I know how important it is to have caring adults and community support during important transitions and decision points and how little funding there is for youth development programs.

8) Best Starts is strongly rooted in local research from the University of Washington. Dow’s message felt like a love letter to the Institute for Learning And Brain Science (I-LABS) at UW and their research on how children learn and when interventions have the most impact.

9) Best Starts is about investing in kids to save the state money. For all the great things this initiative will do for new and expecting mothers, babies and children the biggest beneficiary is the tax payer. Jail is expensive. Drug abuse is expensive. Domestic violence is expensive. This initiative is an attempt to get in front of the problem and prevent issues before they become a cost to the taxpayer.

“We need to tackle inequality. A survey of the people who have moved to Seattle in the last 3 years found that 90% of households fell into two categories: they either made >$150,000 a year or <$35,000.” – Dow Constantine, King County Executive

10) Dow Constantine wants Best Starts to be his legacy. He has been criticized for building new jails and new juvenile detention centers and he credits that controversy with motivating him to find a way to solve problems instead of building more expensive band aids. Best start is just that, a solution. It’s a good start and worth your vote.

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