King County’s Best Starts for Kids makes a smart investment in early intervention.

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THE smartest investment a community can make is to boost the odds of success for its children.

That’s not some gobbledygook streaming from politicians in this campaign season. That is the cold-eyed assessment of social-sciences researchers who’ve become increasingly sophisticated at cost-benefit analyses of intervention programs.

One such analysis finds that $221 spent on behavioral interventions for kids in child care yields benefits (better grades, fewer disruptions, prevented crime) worth $31,741. Similar assessments, some from the excellent Washington State Institute for Public Policy, can be found for programs that send nurses to help struggling, low-income new moms or intervention for binge-drinking middle-schoolers.

A King County property-tax levy on the November ballot called Best Starts for Kids would make these kind of investments. It is well worth a yes vote.

The six-year, $65 million annual levy would target half of its investments to kids up to 5 years old — ages when future payoff is greatest. King County would seek competitive bids from providers that offer programs like early screening for development disabilities or family homelessness prevention.

While there is much to like about the scope of the levy, its biggest challenge is accountability. The last county tax hike was the failed Metro bus-funding measure. It turned out to be unnecessary and its campaign spin misleading.

But Best Starts for Kids builds on work by the county’s human-services department to shift to performance-based contracts — the type of rigor needed to ensure precious taxpayer dollars buy outcomes. The Metropolitan King County Council must provide rigorous oversight of future implementation.

Best Starts would cost the average homeowner in King County about $5 a month. King County taxpayers are right to be wary about additional tax burden, but they are already paying for kids who lost their way: Nearly three-quarters of the county general-fund budget is dedicated to law enforcement.

This levy seeks to shift focus “upstream” to prevention, as King County Executive Dow Constantine says. There is no assurance each program proposed by Best Starts would yield fantastic returns. But it is wise for King County voters to make a bet that many would, and that kids’ lives would be better.

This fall, vote yes on the Best Starts for Kids levy.