Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Invest in the children and Seattle's future

Special to The Times

Families and Education Levy

Seattle's Families and Education Levy would raise $116.8 million over seven years if passed Sept. 14. Property owners would pay about $19.34 per $100,000 assessed valuation a year.

All Seattle children deserve to be adequately prepared for success when they begin school. The 2004 Families and Education Levy will do precisely that, which is why United Way of King County urges all Seattle residents to vote yes for this measure on Sept. 14.

The levy is an important strategy to get kids ready for school; its goal is to improve academic achievement while closing gaps related to race, ethnicity, language and income. Without the resources provided by the proposed levy, many children will find themselves behind from the moment they start school and will likely never catch up.

National research indicates that some 35 percent of all kids aren't prepared for school when they begin kindergarten. These are kids who, by age 5, are not ready to learn how to read, write, master basic skills such as holding a pencil, or act properly in a social setting with teachers and other kids.

In many cases, children who aren't ready to learn by this age have a challenging time recovering. Some don't recover, as some 33 percent of kids in King County who start high school don't finish on time, or at all in some cases. This is unacceptable. We need to bring about change now to avoid a larger societal crisis.

We can do something to reverse these disturbing statistics. By voting yes on the Families and Education Levy, we can provide such help as subsidized preschool/day-care programs for at-risk kids, parent education, and adequate pay for preschool teachers and child-care workers. This will afford a stable caregiving environment so critical for successful children.

United Way of King County has been a longtime advocate for helping ensure all children are prepared for success when beginning school.

Earlier this year, we merged our Children's Initiative with the city of Seattle's Project Liftoff to create the countywide initiative SOAR — helping kids reach the sky — because we realized all community resources must be brought together.

The levy provides money in four areas that are of critical concern to SOAR — school readiness and early learning, after-school programs, youth development, and information and support for families.

SOAR is particularly focused on the school-readiness and early learning aspect of the levy because it is vital to have kids prepared for learning in the years before they set foot in a classroom. Recent research on brain development shows the majority of a person's brain is developed before age 3, and yet our public commitment to education has traditionally focused on ages 6 to 18. The Families and Education Levy begins to increase the focus on early learning in Seattle.

When the levy is approved, it will create two early learning networks in low-income areas, provide high-quality preschool for some 400 4-year-olds, develop neighborhood teams to help prepare children for school, and provide for child care, family support, health screenings, parent education and parent-child home visits.

The cost to an average Seattle homeowner will be just $65 a year, which is only a slight increase from the current $34 average that pays for the last school levy. This is a nominal investment for a successful Seattle. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to pay a small amount now rather than paying much more later on in terms of welfare, unemployment and criminal justice.

Now is the time to invest in the children of our future. But we can't do it without you, so please vote yes for Seattle's Families and Education Levy. It's a crucial investment for our children and for Seattle's future.

David Okimoto is United Way of King County's vice president for community services and a member of the Families and Education Levy's Citizen Advisory Committee.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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