With worries about the economy intensifying, voters will be highly discerning when they consider tax requests on the November ballot.

One measure we believe should rise to the top of the voters' priority list is renewal of the Portland Children's Investment Fund, which appears on the ballot as Measure 26-94.

This proposal, referred to voters by the Portland City Council, deserves support for two reasons: It's a program that already exists - and it's a program that works to improve the lives of Portland's neediest children.

The success of the Children's Investment Fund has been based on its partnership with nonprofit agencies. This isn't a case of government creating new programs or bureaucracies. The funding - aimed at early childhood education, preventing child abuse and providing after-school options - is directed toward nonprofit groups that are skilled at providing such services.

Among the dozens of recipients of Children's Investment Fund dollars are such groups as Albina Head Start, Morrison Child and Family Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Friends of the Children. Due to these investments, children are receiving the help they need to be ready to start kindergarten. They are getting tutoring, and they are being assigned to mentors. Their health is being monitored and they receive therapy for abuse.

In the time since the investment fund was created following the November 2002 election, the project has been evaluated by objective researchers, including a comprehensive 2005 study by Portland State University. The evaluators found that the 16,000 mostly low-income children being helped by the fund are hitting key benchmarks and that their prospects are being improved.

The expense of Measure 26-94 isn't inconsequential. Continuing the levy will cost property owners about 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That amounts to about $10 per month for a typical homeowner.

However, this investment is cheap when compared with the consequences if help isn't provided to children in need. The result of a 'no' vote on this measure would be more children who struggle in school, more dropouts, more abuse and crime - and, ultimately, a higher price for taxpayers to deal with those problems.

Portland voters should say 'yes' to the bargain that Measure 26-94 represents.

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