As Auburn’s chief of police, I have witnessed too many at-risk youth grow up to become involved in crime, and I know that for many of these kids, their lives did not have to turn out that way. If they had had the opportunity to participate in quality, early-learning programs, such as Head Start, they might have had a better chance to succeed, not only in school, but in life beyond school — and not turn to crime as their only viable option.

Regrettably, there are proposals in the state budget that aim to cut funding for early-learning programs such as Head Start. I strongly urge Maine’s lawmakers to reject such cuts and, in fact, work in a bipartisan manner to increase funding for high-quality early-learning programs wherever possible, so participation can be expanded. That will benefit our kids and our communities today and will serve to reduce crime in the years to come.

A great deal of research has been done on the value of quality, early-learning programs that indicates these programs reduce crime by helping more children develop a foundation for long-term success. With this foundation, our youth are less likely to fall behind or drop out of school, or lead a life of crime as adults.

I strongly believe Maine owes it to our kids and our communities to support programs that give youth a better chance of succeeding academically and socially in school, graduating from high school on time, make them less likely to need special education services and more likely to be employed as adults. Those benefits are especially true for vulnerable, at-risk kids.

One example is a long-term study of Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers, whose early-learning program has served more than 100,000 children ages 3 and 4 for many years. The study found that at-risk kids left out of the program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18. Similarly, children left out of the High/Scope Perry Preschool in Michigan were five times more likely to be chronic offenders with five or more arrests by age 27.

I have seen the positive results of the Head Start program in our community — the Promise Early Education Center — firsthand. As a board member, I have visited their classrooms and seen the amazing educational experience kids receive, giving the children the skills and confidence they need to succeed in their current and future environments.

Data shows that 90 percent of the children ages 3 and 4 who attend the Promise Center meet or exceed developmental targets for school readiness, which is determined by their progress across domains of language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge, approaches to learning, physical well-being, motor development, and social and emotional development.

Those outcomes are incredibly promising and show that Androscoggin’s high-quality early-education program is making a substantial difference in ensuring our children have a great foundation for success. Equally important is the caring and compassionate staff who pour into these children and, for a few hours of their day, bring peace into their lives.

Programs across Maine can have similar results if our state commits to creating, sustaining and increasing participation in high-quality early-learning opportunities.

According to the most recent Maine Kids Count report (2015), approximately 3,900, or 28 percent, of those eligible, low-income Maine children were served by Head Start. Unfortunately, thousands of additional eligible children are not enrolled in local Head Start programs due to the lack of capacity, showing Maine has a large unmet need for our most at-risk youngsters. Cutting state support for Head Start will not help us address those inadequacies.

As an added bonus, such programs are a sound economic investment. Studies have shown that participation in Head Start can return, on average, a net profit to society of nearly $17,000 for every child served over their lifetimes, saving taxpayers a great deal of money.

It is clear and proven that high-quality early-learning programs such as Head Start and public pre-K help kids, especially those who are at-risk, get started on the right path in life. They also save money and help keep our communities safer in the long-term. They deserve everyone’s support.

State policymakers should reject efforts to cut funding for early learning programs such as Head Start and expanded public pre-K. I also urge elected officials to identify ways to increase funding for those critical programs that are proven to give Maine kids, at the youngest stages of development, the foundational learning opportunities they deserve to become contributing members of society as adults, rather than a drain on public coffers and the safety of our communities.

Philip Crowell Jr. is the Auburn Chief of Police.

Phil Crowell

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: