With Best Starts for Kids, King County embarked on a $400 million taxpayer-funded experiment to improve the lives of kids and communities in ways that had never been attempted.

Early on, officials promised to share the results “both achievements and failures” to “increase BSK’s accountability and build and sustain public trust.” Instead, the county has only shared the achievements.

As officials seek to renew and more than double the measure to $872 million in the Aug. 3 election, an examination by The Seattle Times has found: 

  • The county doesn’t publicly report whether BSK programs achieved their own goals agreed upon in contracts, making it hard to see when they’ve exceeded expectations or fallen short.
  • Only a small fraction of BSK contracts have been terminated, but two county agencies have each found nearly 30 organizations that failed to meet at least one contract requirement.  
  • Of $218 million awarded to community organizations, the county has required contractors to refund less than $8,000 — .004% of the total. 
  • The county paid at least a couple of BSK-funded organizations six-figure sums even though the data on who they helped was deemed too unreliable to count. 
  • Rather than penalizing organizations for contract lapses, the county has provided expert help to small organizations — but this hasn’t always fixed the problems. 
  • While BSK reports brim with impressive factoids, they are often lacking in nuance: The half-a-million people BSK claims to have served, for instance, doesn’t account for programs that have served the same people multiple times. 

Read the full investigation here.