Three Black-presenting youth and a Black-and-female-presenting individual wearing a head covering hug and pose for the camera, all of them wearing bright yellow t-shirts.

OPINION: ‘Best Starts for Kids’ Provides Vital Educational Support

by Jessica Werner and Erin Okuno

We are writing with enthusiastic support for the renewal of the Best Starts for Kids (BSK) levy and encouraging you to vote to approve the levy this August. As longtime advocates for children, youth, and families, we are so thankful to see the growing momentum and commitment to be a community that truly values young people and works to ensure that every child is happy, healthy, safe, and thriving!

Babies who were born the year BSK originally passed are just now entering school. The services they received as babies — like home visits, Play-and-Learn groups, information and support for parents and caregivers, and more — helped to prepare them and their families to enter school ready to learn and thrive.

Continued support and well-being for children and their families is as critical as ever, particularly as we begin to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and as we continue to battle the entrenched and institutional racism in our society. 

Many of our South Seattle and south King County families and children directly benefited from the initial BSK levy. Organizations such as El Centro de la Raza, STEM Paths Innovation Network for Kids, Arts Corps, Chinese Information and Service Center, Rainier Beach Action Coalition, Na’ah Illahee Fund, Mother Africa, and Living Well Kent received funding from BSK to provide programs such as expanded learning or after-school programs, mentoring, and youth development programming. 

Over the life of this previous levy, over 500,000 children and families were served. The current levy is the most comprehensive support levy in the nation, spanning supports from prenatal to age 24. 

Youth Development Executives of King County (YDEKC) is a coalition of more than 100 nonprofit, youth-serving organizations across King County, the vast majority focused on supporting children and Youth of Color and including dozens of BIPOC-led organizations. Like YDEKC, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition believes Children of Color deserve a quality education that encompasses and honors their whole beings and identities. We work towards this belief by supporting communities of color and the nonprofits that work deeply with families of color, as well as advocate to improve policies and practices to achieve more racial equity in our education systems.

Throughout the pandemic, our partners have stayed open to provide essential supports to children and families; provided formal and informal behavioral health supports for young people as they have dealt with anxiety, uncertainty, and ongoing trauma from systemic racism; shifted program efforts to deliver food and technology to families who relied on schools to provide essential supports; and generally navigated the most challenging and unprecedented time in our living memories. Many of our partners provide these services in families’ home languages, with careful attention to cultural sensitivity, and they are connected to many of the families who are hardest to reach because of technology and language barriers. They were able to do this because they had built relationships and trust over time, aided by BSK funding.

Having BSK funding in our community has helped many of these organizations stay open and ready to respond during normal times and through crises. The uniqueness and flexibility BSK provides to deliver services and programs — and with the full spectrum of birth through age 24 — provides a safety net to our children and families in King County by supporting a strong, community-based provider community. Keeping funding focused on service delivery and with attention towards contracts covering the full cost of delivering programs will help to keep providers strong so they can provide the best programs and services to young people.

We hope you will join us in enthusiastically voting “Yes” on Aug. 3 for King County Proposition 1, “Best Starts for Kids,” supporting the well-being of all of our children and youth. Washington residents can register to vote here. July 26 is the deadline to register to vote online or by mail in the Aug. 3 election.

Erin Okuno is the executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition.

Jessica Werner is the executive director of Youth Development Executives of King County.

📸 Featured image courtesy of Mother Africa.

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