My Turn: To fight crime, we must invest in kids

For the Monitor
Published: 4/24/2017 12:08:36 AM

The abuse of opioids is a national epidemic. It has grown so dramatically that the president announced a national commission on opioid abuse at the White House last month.

Sadly, one of the places where this troubling threat has grown the most is right here in New Hampshire. And with it has come a growing presence of criminal activity, including violent crimes.

As chief of the Enfield Police Department and past president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, I know that law enforcement officials in the Granite State are doing everything possible to control this disturbing trend. But we need longer-term solutions, too. That’s why we are urging public officials at the state and federal levels to support policies that will give every American child access to high-quality early education.

If we invest today in setting a strong intellectual, cognitive and emotional foundation for children before they reach age 5, we can significantly raise the odds they will stay in and perform well in school, avoid teenage pregnancy, keep away from drug-related and violent crimes and, more generally, contribute to making our communities more livable and prosperous.

Unfortunately, New Hampshire is one of the only states east of the Mississippi River without state-funded preschool, putting our kids at an early disadvantage compared to those from other states. To make matters worse, our state does not provide full-day kindergarten to all of our students.

We can change that – we just need the political will to do so. Gov. Chris Sununu took a good first step when he proposed a budget in February that would provide $18 million over two years to help children across the state have access to full-day kindergarten. And the state Senate voted 22-2 a few weeks later to pass Senate Bill 191, a bill that mirrors the governor’s plan and targets funds to full-day kindergarten programs.

On Tuesday, the House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on SB 191, and I encourage all members of that committee to support this critical legislation.

Like all states, New Hampshire faces tough financial decisions as it works to balance its budget and wisely spend taxpayer money. But investing in early childhood education is a no-brainer.

Not only is it a question of equal opportunity for kids, but research from Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman shows that investments in high-quality programs can yield an annual 13 percent return, per child, per year, through improved outcomes, such as reduced crime, higher graduation rates and improved sociability.

Even the most advanced and well-resourced police forces can only do so much to stop crime. Technology and equipment can help, but the best way to stop crime is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Fundamental changes to existing systems are the way to do this, starting with education and full-day kindergarten.

Full-day kindergarten is not only the right thing to do, it has vast support as well. A poll commissioned by Save the Children Action Network last November showed that 85 percent of voters wanted Gov. Sununu to make early education a high priority and 69 percent wanted to fund full-day kindergarten, even if it was paid for by a cigarette tax increase.

Of course, the quality of the kindergarten program makes a difference, as with all early childhood programs. Full-day kindergarten must include both formal and informal learning activities, as well as meet state standards for quality. When that is the case, full-day kindergarten can help reduce inequality and give all kids a strong start in life.

That’s why I urge the members of the Legislature to approve increased state funding for full-day kindergarten and make sure more kids in New Hampshire have the opportunity to attend a high-quality, full-day program. To fight crime, we must invest in kids.

(Richard Crate is chief of the Enfield Police Department and past president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.)

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