Guest commentary: Whatcom children's levy deserves a 'yes' vote
September 28, 2022 at 5:25 a.m.
Whatcom County has an enormous opportunity for its children and families that will be on our ballot this Nov. 8.
Proposition 5, the Children's Initiative, is an investment in our community’s collective future that will improve the health, education and welfare of our 10,000 youngest children, while addressing glaring inequities and issues of access during the earliest, most formative years of childhood. These earliest years are a one-time window of opportunity to lay a strong foundation for our kids’ futures.
Your support for this measure will expand existing and new child care facilities, provide better, equitable access to quality preschool, and improve training and compensation for early childhood education providers. It will also include additional support for our most vulnerable families who struggle to provide stable home situations.
Proposition 5 grew out of extensive research and a decade of hard work by Whatcom County’s local citizens, business leaders, early-learning specialists, health care providers, educators, law enforcement and nonprofits.
These groups came together to imagine and provide a better future for our kids. They recognized that far too few of our local dollars are currently dedicated to prevention from birth to age 5, when intervening is most impactful. The initiative is the product of a community-driven coalition that understands we are only as healthy as our youngest citizens.
Research confirms that 90% of brain development occurs between the ages of 0–5. Quality early childhood-education intervention during those years is critical and leads to higher third-grade reading rates, increased high school graduation rates, access to post-high school education and training, and lower incarceration rates downstream. Missing this window constitutes a lost opportunity for kids and for all of us.
At present, only 46% of our students in Whatcom County arrive at kindergarten prepared to learn. This percentage drops to 25% for our children of color. These are unacceptable figures.
While parents are a child’s first teachers, most parents need to work other jobs out of the home. How children spend time while their parents are at work impacts that critical phase of brain development.
Whatcom County currently lacks 5,000 child care slots. These slots represent 5,000 children who are not accessing early learning interventions during those formative years, and parents who are unable to return to our local workforce. In addition, 88% of Whatcom County businesses report their employees are missing work or cutting hours due to child care issues, which impacts our local economy.
The goals of Proposition 5 will be achieved through a property tax of approximately $95 per average household per year, or $7.92 per month, depending upon assessed valuation. This will raise about $8.2 million per year.
Proposition 5 includes rigorous, transparent local oversight and accountability, as well an independent, outside audit every two years to confirm that objectives are being met.
Whatcom County has always been a place where neighbors care for neighbors. We are all proud of that reputation and many of us are here because of it. This is an excellent opportunity to put that collective care into action and change the way we launch and support our youngest children.
Please vote YES for Proposition 5 by Tuesday, Nov. 8 for our kids, their parents and for the health of our entire community. Our children are our future, and the smartest investment we can make. To learn more go to yeswhatcomkids.com.
Leslie Farris of Bellingham is a retired school counselor and grandmother of four. Mike Hammes is owner and CEO of Ram Construction. Emily O'Connor is the executive director of Lydia Place.