Recent reporting by The Seattle Times on The Best Starts for Kids levy was misleading. [“Upbeat image of $400M levy for kids doesn’t tell full story,” July 15, A1]. It may persuade some King County voters to vote against the levy, and that would be a serious mistake with sad consequences for our community.
The Times focused its investigation solely on a few troubled social-service agencies and some misdeeds by a couple of agencies. But the levy actually funds a wide array of large and small programs, including United Way and Seattle Foundation, and serves thousands of infants and preschoolers, pregnant teens, hungry and homeless families and students needing extra help to succeed.
As one who worked in human services for 45 years, here’s the truth: Our county (and our country) has never adequately funded needed services for children and families. Tax dollars to nourish our children are shockingly limited compared to other prosperous nations.
In lieu of government funded programs, we have a patchwork of laudable but very limited volunteer and nonprofit services. I’ve worked for and with several of them and found them to be mission-driven and worthy organizations. But they need so much more financial aid and organizational guidance to reach the people who need them.
For example, Lambert House in Seattle uses volunteers to run teen support groups for socially isolated LGBTQ teens in outlying areas of the county, to give them a reason to thrive and be who they are, and maybe turn negative thoughts away from self-harm. How many more teens could they reach with more staff?
Volunteer tutors (like me) help students in elementary school whose parents don’t speak English or weren’t lucky enough to have attended preschool catch up to their peers who did. What if we had more tutors, paid and volunteer, in our neediest schools? Small neighborhood agencies help as best they can with homelessness and food insecurity. The levy supported agencies such as Kindering and Northwest Center helping children with a variety of disabilities so they can transition to a mainstream school. As a tutor in the Rainier Valley, I’ve seen how hard it is for children and families to overcome life’s hurdles without a helping hand. There are not nearly enough of these independent grassroots resources. That’s where the Best Starts levy comes in.
Funding the levy renewal would cost those of us with a middle-class lifestyle an estimated extra $45 a year. It’s true that many of the funded programs can’t really “prove” that they achieve their goals. But I can attest that the kids who had a good preschool experience are obvious to me in the first week of school every fall. Those who didn’t stand out immediately. If you’ve ever known a family who lost a child to depression and suicide, you know the costs. And families who have a child with disabilities can tell you what it costs them to search for help for their child.
As King County Executive Dow Constantine said, “The proof of all this really is going to come when children being born now arrive at a successful and healthy adulthood.”
We can’t guarantee it, or prove it, but we can invest in it in good faith, for the good of all of us.