King County voters will have an opportunity to approve a nearly $400 million investment in early interventions that’s part of an ambitious levy proposal designed to narrow income inequality and improve the odds that children become healthy adults.
Last week, the King County Council overwhelmingly voted to put the Best Starts for Kids proposal on the ballot this November. Best Starts is a six-year levy that would fund early learning, home visits for new moms, better access to healthy foods, mental health screenings for youth, and better connected communities. (For our readers outside Washington state, King County is the home of Seattle and the largest of the state’s 39 counties.)
In a sense, the proposal wants to flip King County’s spending priorities. Currently, the county spends 75 percent of its general fund on law enforcement, jails and other parts of the criminal justice system. This leaves little for early education. The proposal, on the other hand, would invest in the county’s youngest residents, which could reduce criminal justice spending. Research has repeatedly shown early learning investments can dramatically reduce spending on incarceration and other law enforcement spending.
Overall, Best Starts wants to narrow the income inequality gap that divides wealthy and lower-income families, a gap that appears to be growing in King County. “Of the 85,000 net new households in King County since 2000, less than four percent are middle-income. The rest are split evenly between those earning $125,000 a year and those earning under $35,000,” according to Best Starts material.
“The sad truth in America today is that a top predictor of a child’s success in life is the income of the household in which that child is raised,” King County Executive Dow Constantine, who proposed the initiative, said in a statement. “Income inequality has forced its way into the public arena, but here in King County we are fortunate to have both the wealth and the willingness to confront it head-on—by investing in our people, by investing in our communities, and by giving all our children the best start in life we can.””
One of the proposal’s most interesting ideas is its focus on entire communities. It would make communities more walkable, expand access to good food and generally create healthier environments to “ensure that the place where a child lives reinforces the progress they are making,” Constantine says.
The bulk of the levy funds, 50 percent, would be dedicated to early learning, including home visits to new mothers and universal access to timely developmental screenings. The initiative focuses on the first five years of life because the latest science shows 85 percent of brain development occurs in a child’s first three years.
In crafting their proposal, policymakers relied on pioneering research and scientists from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) to produce a “levy that will provide the resources to turn science into action,” Dow Constantine says.
Laugh of the Day: We know how important teachers are. Now the comic duo Key and Peele imagines teachers as professional sports heroes in “TeacherCenter.”
Check it out.