The following opinion was submitted to The Chronicle by Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza and Centralia Police Department Chief Carl Nielsen.
We are well into 2017.
For most of us, our New Year’s resolutions are likely a distant memory while any residual holiday joy has long since dissipated.
But, as law enforcement officers in this county, there are local holiday traditions that stay with us. Every December, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office takes part in the United Way’s “Shop with a Cop” event where deputies are paired with children to shop for Christmas gifts.
In Centralia, the police department hosts a “Night Out With Santa” where families are treated to pictures, gifts and a meal with our staff. In both cases, it’s a rare opportunity for us to see each other in a different light and have some fun.
Sadly, the next time we see some of those children again is years later when they run into trouble with the law as young adults, and the mood is much less lighthearted.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from years on the job, the foundation for children’s success is set in the earliest years. We see it when we enter homes where disadvantaged children are being abused and neglected. It only reaffirms the need to help give kids a fighting chance at a better life. For us, that means supporting greater access to proven early learning programs.
Research has shown that children who participate in high-quality programs, such as Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), perform better academically, are more likely to graduate from high school and are less likely to become involved in crime.
In recent years, studies of participation in state preschools showed important decreases in the number of children being held back in school. That is of particular concern for Washington, where we’re spending $11 million in additional costs each year to pay for children to repeat kindergarten. That’s happening right here in Lewis County, where school districts report that only 32 to 60 percent of children are entering kindergarten with the needed skills.
This is not sustainable.
This is why our community, under leadership of United Way, has focused on early learning and parent engagement.
We’ve seen improvement, but we know there’s more work to be done.
We know the Legislature must meet its obligation to fully fund basic education, but if we want to meet desirable outcomes, we must increase access to programs that are proven to work like ECEAP.
And clearly there is a need.
According to Department of Early Learning figures, 59 percent of eligible children in Lewis County are not currently being served by state or federal preschool.
There’s also a need for more space to house these programs.
And quality must remain high by increasing the average reimbursement rate to reflect the true cost of rising standards.
Of course, all of this costs money.
But, from our perspective as law enforcement officers, the choice for Washington is simple: Pay for high-quality early education programs now or pay far more later for the costs of crime.
Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza and Centralia Police Chief Carl Nielsen are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national, nonpartisan nonprofit comprised of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors protecting public safety by promoting solutions that direct kids away from crime.