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.
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.
Every day, our groundbreaking Best Starts for Kids initiative ensures King County’s children have equitable opportunities to thrive and achieve their potential. 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.
It is critical that we build a more equitable future for youth across King County. Over the past six years, Best Starts for Kids has made a groundbreaking set of investments in King County’s youth and families. Through proven prevention strategies, it sets children up for success from birth through adulthood. Thanks to Executive Constantine’s vision and leadership, the first Best Starts for Kids levy provided critical services, from homelessness prevention to system-level race and equity work. I look forward to working with my colleagues to send a robust levy renewal proposal to the voters.
Best Starts for Kids is King County’s commitment to create a bright, thriving future for every child in our entire region, and I am honored to sponsor the levy’s first renewal for another six years. Best Starts for Kids developed health and educational resources for new families, allowed kids to join out-of-school activities and helped young people transfer from school to careers, all while investing in strong, lasting, local community resources. When children thrive, our communities thrive and I am excited voters will have the chance to support this work later this year.
King County’s ongoing commitment to children and families is clear through its proposed Best Start for Kids renewal. In particular, I applaud the partnership between the county and state to maximize child care investments that are essential to economic recovery, racial equity and robust childhood development.
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 that is deeply committed to their health and development, from day one and throughout their lives. 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.
Best Starts for Kids has been essential for everyone providing community services like early learning, after school programming and homelessness prevention. Southwest Youth and Family Services believes that strong partnerships are critical to supporting working parents and families, especially those hit hardest by the pandemic. This funding is essential to those of us working in areas with few other investments in human services.
Best Starts for Kids funding has made a significant impact in the Snoqualmie Valley. Funding has made it possible to eliminate barriers for families by providing access to resource coordination and support- even in Spanish! The impact of the funding can be seen on the faces of parents who are able to engage the support they need when they need it. BSK has also allowed us to improve our school and community environments through key positive messaging campaigns. These campaigns have decreased youth substance abuse and are increasing the number of youth who know where to turn if they need help. BSK funding has made a tremendous impact on supporting youth mental health and it couldn’t have come at a crucial time as youth suicide rates climb nationally. The continuation of BSK funding is essential in maintaining the gains that have been made and we hope to continue supporting youth and families in meaningful and impactful ways.
Youth Development Executives of King County fully supports Best Starts for Kids as a transformational levy for children and youth. In alignment with our mission to ensure that Black, Indigenous and Youth of Color thrive, YDEKC fully supports Best Starts for Kids. In just a few years, Best Starts for Kids has shifted the trajectory for many young people in King County by investing in holistic supports that complement K-12 education for King County’s young people. An increased investment will ensure that gains made in early learning programs can be sustained through the school-aged years, and young people can transition successfully to adulthood and the future they can dream. King County’s investment through Best Starts for Kids to support thriving young people, has been transformational. The narrative has shifted from young people being problems to be fixed to youth being full of strength and inherently powerful.
Best Starts for Kids honors the abiding truth that parents know best what their children need to thrive. What's beautiful about Best Starts for Kids is that it can show up for a family in so many ways as they intersect with systems that support them, from birth all the way into adulthood. Best Starts is strongly guided by community voices, and anchored in equity. We're all in this together, and we have our work cut out for us as we cultivate communities that provide opportunities to heal, recover and thrive. With Best Starts for Kids, we are investing in beloved communities and bright futures.
Thanks to Best Starts for Kids, Open Arms Perinatal Services was able to reach more families with important support during pregnancy, birth, and early childhood. When you help babies and their parents have better health and support from the first moments of life, it helps them live into all the possibilities they deserve in their lives. I am so proud to live in a County that has come together to embrace and prioritize the health and well-being of our youngest members. Everyone in our communities benefits when the people of King County prioritize our kids.
Best Starts for Kids has effectively partnered with young leaders from across the County to define what well-being looks like, and centered youth voice at every step of the way. We identified problems and solutions, and played a vital role in holding the County accountable to the promises of a happy, healthy, safe and thriving community.
Best Starts for Kids and Communities of Opportunity are about supporting solutions that already work in our community and empowering leaders to maximize their impact. At the heart of these solutions are partnerships. In SeaTac and Tukwila we are focused on structurally changing the way we address food insecurity, good jobs, fair housing for all, and access to care to reverse the trend of health inequity, not only in South King County, but throughout all of King County. It is our partnership with Best Starts for Kids and Communities of Opportunity that has made this collaborative work possible.
Best Start for Kids knows how to partner with community-based organizations to pilot and grow programs crucial to the development of children and families in our community. For United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, this means respect, reciprocity, relationships, and responsibility. From the initial proposal process to the monthly problem-solving sessions, Best Starts for Kids leaders, administrative staffers, and data analysts all set a high bar. They engage in two-way accountability. They focus on learning communities. They listen to feedback in order to make mid-course corrections. As a result, we are able to tie our discrete developmental screening program to an entire system of supports. While we have extended our reach, thanks to BSK, and conducted more screenings, we have also had the resources to provide much-needed professional development for our own staff. That way, we stay true to our holistic, grassroots approach.
Best Starts for Kids has been an invaluable partner in CISC’s efforts to support immigrant families in better understanding their children’s developmental needs, strengthening family relationships, and helping them thrive. Many of the families have come to the United States with the hope of giving their children a better life. But they often struggle due to language and cultural barriers. Without the support of Best Starts for Kids, families in our community would not have access to the bilingual and bicultural child development and family support resources CISC provides. .
We serve culturally and linguistically diverse individuals with disabilities and their families who are farthest from access. The Best Starts for Kids (BSK) Levy enabled us to do so much great work: strengthen our organizational infrastructure, disrupt the school to prison pipeline, keep families in their homes, provide inclusive and culturally responsive programming, and build community leaders. Best Starts for Kids is essential to strengthening our long-term sustainability and building community power.
Now more than ever, parents need quality, affordable child care so we can rebuild our economy and emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. Best Starts for Kids has proven to be successful not only in helping children learn and grow, but in recognizing the value of the child care workforce in our communities.
We believe that outdoor engagement improves life outcomes, but many people of color do not see themselves represented or feel included in the “outdoors.” Our communities encounter interpersonal and systemic challenges to outdoor engagement. Best Starts for Kids is helping us address those barriers. The support from Best Starts has allowed us to partner with community to develop culturally-relevant ways to promote outdoor access, connections and safety through free-of-cost events, partnerships, family education and resource provision.
“Everyone needs a strong foundation and a safe, healthy home to reach their full potential. Best Starts for Kids is one of the most critical tools we have to ensure that every child in King County has the opportunity to thrive. While other initiatives provide needed services to people in crisis, Best Starts for Kids promotes positive development and strengthens families and communities, in addition to preventing negative outcomes such as homelessness, domestic violence and mental illness. The King County Alliance for Human Services applauds the success of the services supported by the first BSK levy, is dedicated to ensuring BSK has a strong focus on equity and social justice for all, and advocates for the highest possible renewal at this critical time. We know what works. King County Kids need our help to spring back from this pandemic healthier than ever!
For more information, contact:
Alex Fryer, Executive Office, 206-477-7966