Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled an ambitious new plan to improve early development among all King County children—a $65 million levy called “Best Starts for Kids.” If approved by the King County council and voters, the levy would fund early initiatives aimed at helping poor children in King County keep up with their wealthier pint-sized peers in areas from prenatal care to homelessness. With the demonstrations in Baltimore spurring a national discussion about not just police brutality but the lack of social services for poor youth, here are three things you should know about this timely local effort.
Why early development? Several studies show how much a child’s early experiences impact them later in life. A University of Washington study released in April showed how an infant or toddler’s environment, if negative, can lead to increased stress throughout his or her life. Eighty-five percent of the brain has developed by age 3 (the remainder develops during the teenage years), so early investment in a child will lead to the best results, according to the Best Starts website. If successful, the $65 million levy will mean fewer children suffer from abuse, chronic disease, and disability; it should also save taxpayers money in the long run, with fewer youth involved in the criminal-justice system and fewer emergency-room visits. Best Starts also cites the Heckman Curve, developed by economist James Heckman, which shows that prenatal programs and those targeting children up to age 3 are the most important: “The earlier the investment, the greater the return.”
Why now? “The ultimate goal of Best Starts for Kids is to sever the link between incomes and outcomes—to create a King County where the circumstance of one’s birth no longer defines the course of one’s life,” Constantine said in a statement. “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.” With an unemployment rate of only 4.5 percent and a median income of $69,000, King County seems to be thriving; in reality, the divide between rich and poor is significant. Kingcounty.gov reports that nearly half the population earns over $125,000, the other half less than $35,000. The so-called “middle-class” makes up only four percent of our population. This disparity will only continue to grow.
What can you do? Assuming the Metropolitan King County Council approves the Best Starts levy, voters will be asked to approve it in November. The levy would raise $58,000,000 in the first year and would cost the average citizen about $60 a year, or a little over $1 a week. Programs funded by Best Starts will address issues relating to poor health, abuse, and involvement in the criminal-justice system, and will focus investments on a child’s early development. E