King County Executive Dow Constantine today announced his plan for the six-year Best Starts for Kids levy renewal to continue programs that focus on health and well-being for children, youth, and families throughout the region, along with new investments to improve access to child care for families with low incomes. The measure would appear on the August ballot.
Created by Executive Constantine and passed by King County voters in 2015, Best Starts for Kids served more than 500,000 children, youth, young adults, and families, providing comprehensive supports from pre-natal development all the way to young adulthood.
The Executive’s proposed ballot measure maintains or expands current Best Starts for Kids programs that support the County’s youngest residents through to early adulthood. These programs include:
• Home-based services for new parents – provides support for new families throughout the first years. In these programs, an average of 97 percent of new parents started breastfeeding, helping their babies off to a healthy start. This exceeded the goal of “Healthy People 2020,” a federal initiative with a goal of 82 percent of new parents breastfeeding.
• Programs that promote healthy development for youth – provides support for children and young people to develop leaderships skill, connect with their community, and succeed in school. The levy served 40,000 children and young people with programs before, during, and after school, and throughout the summer.
• Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative – flexible funds and intensive case management helped 9,200 young people and families. Ninety percent of enrollees did not enter the homeless system, and 92 percent remained housed at least one year after exiting the program.
Investing in Child Care
Child care is unaffordable for many families, especially in King County where the cost of living and the cost of child care are higher than other parts of the state. The lack of affordable, quality child care creates barriers to employment and stability.
The renewal includes new funding for 3,000 children under 5 who currently have no access to child care.
The new child care program will focus on communities that can least afford quality care due to long-standing inequities, and families at risk of unemployment or homelessness. The proposal also creates a new Workforce Demonstration Project to bolster the ability of child care workers to earn a living wage in King County as they care for the region’s children.
The investments in child care creates a stronger foundation for children and early learning and greater economic security for families that will have benefits for generations to come.
“Every day, our groundbreaking Best Starts for Kids initiative ensures King County’s children have equitable opportunities to thrive and achieve their potential,” said Executive Constantine. “Quality child care is essential to preparing our kids for success in school and supporting working families. As our region recovers from the health and economic crises brought on by the global pandemic, it is more important than ever to make sure every child and family is supported to share in that recovery.”
The Executive’s proposed ballot measure ordinance sets a first-year levy rate of $0.19 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value, or about $114 per year for a median-priced King County home, and limits annual levy growth to three percent.
This is an increase of five cents compared to the previous measure. Voters approved the first Best Starts for Kids levy in 2015, which expires Dec. 31, 2021, unless renewed by King County voters.
The levy renewal is expected to generate approximately $811 million.
“The first babies born in our county under Best Starts for Kids are now five years old. They’ve spent their critical first five years in a county that is deeply committed their health and development, from day one and throughout their lives,” said Sheila Capestany, Strategic Advisor for Children and Youth for King County. “Best Starts for Kids is our community’s continued promise to support those babies–and every child born or raised in our county–as they continue to grow into happy, healthy, thriving adults.”
Under the Executive’s proposal, 22.5 percent of revenues will continue funding the Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative and provide new funding for affordable child care and a child care workforce demonstration project.
Of the remaining 77.5 percent of revenues, fifty percent would support programs for children aged pre-natal through five. Thirty-seven percent would be directed to services for children, youth and young adults aged five through 24.
Eight percent continues funding for Communities of Opportunity (COO), public-private partnerships to create safe, healthy and thriving communities for children and families. COO involves over 50 organizations working to strengthen community connections and improve health, housing, and economic conditions. One example is the “Food Innovation Network” that supports low-income immigrant and refugee communities to increase access to healthy and culturally relevant food in South King County. In 2020, they prepared over 8,000 free meal for seniors and families.
Five percent of levy revenues would fund evaluation.
A proven track record of success
Early intervention is key to a healthy start in life. Best Starts for Kids served 377,000 infants and children and families over the past five years, with particular emphasis on reaching communities that historically lacked access to health and early learning services. Successes include:
• “Parent Child +” program improved school readiness for children ages 2 to 4 by 57 percent
• “Early Support for Infants and Toddlers” program increased the number of children assessed for developmental delays by 44 percent.
Expanding programs for youth and young adults
The Executive’s proposal looks to expand investments to support youth and young adults age 5 to 24. The levy served over 40,000 young people, providing programs to promote health and strong social-emotional development, build leadership and employment skills, and connect young people with peers and supportive adults.
Increased investments are proposed to expand the following strategies:
• Out-of-school time programs serves 937 students every day. In 2019, 82 percent of those students reported improvements in academic and social emotional growth.
• School-Based Health Centers – medical, mental health and dental services for middle school and high school students. Best Starts for Kids opened new health centers in Bellevue, Renton, and Vashon Island schools and funded 15 existing centers. The renewal calls for up to four new school-based health centers.
• Transitions to adulthood employment programs helped more than 500 youth in 2019. Almost 80 percent stayed in school, graduated or enrolled in post-secondary
The King County Council will review and deliberate on the Executive’s proposal.
If the ballot measure is approved for placement on the ballot, detailed budget and implementation planning for the next Best Starts for Kids levy will follow.
Implementation planning will follow the requirements of the ballot measure ordinance and will occur in close consultation with community partners, the youth and families served by Best Starts programs, and the Children and Youth Advisory Board and Communities of Opportunity Governance Group.