On the Aug. 3 primary ballot, King County will ask voters to renew and increase funding for Best Starts for Kids. Best Starts has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, young adults and families. It deserves to be renewed.
King County voters first authorized a property-tax levy for Best Starts in 2015. It raised about $440 million used to support family- and community-focused service providers and programs.
That levy is expiring, and the county not only wants to renew it but also to increase it from 14 to 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for six years. A homeowner with an assessed value of $600,000 would pay $114 per year. Annual increases would be limited to 3%. The new rate would generate an anticipated $872 million.
After voters passed Best Starts, the county conducted extensive community engagement to identify priorities that focus on happy, healthy, safe and thriving families. The overarching goal is simple: Give young people up to age 24 the best chance at success in life.
For example, programs supported by Best Starts conducted 200,000 home visits to families with new children. They promoted a healthy environment and delivered essential items like food, diapers and car seats to 89,000 kids and families that otherwise might not have access to them.
Education, nutrition and homelessness also were top concerns. If Prop. 1 passes, even more resources will target the latter.
Best Starts shines especially during the pandemic, when economic stress strained many families and child care became scarce.
Much of Best Starts’ success is attributable to its innovative approach. Grant-giving organizations usually announce amounts, solicit proposals and hand out the money. Best Starts instead engages the community, shares its goals and asks service providers how they can reach them. Program officials then work with those providers figuring out what resources they need, providing training and measuring success. Grant recipients come out at the end better equipped to continue helping the community.
If there’s one knock, it’s that Best Starts hasn’t done as good a job on transparency and documenting progress as it promised in 2015. Granted, it is difficult to draw conclusions about efficacy that might not manifest until many years down the road, but that doesn’t excuse a poorly implemented website and dozens of metrics that seem more about throwing everything at the wall and seeing where there’s success.
Dig enough, though, and one finds that Best Starts has been a responsible manager of the funds the public entrusted it with. King County is better off for it. Vote yes on Proposition 1.