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Originally published Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 4:30 PM

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Guest: Invest in early learning to fight future incidence of crime

A sure way to reduce crime is to invest in high-quality earning learning for our youngest citizens, write guest columnists John Urquhart and Jim Pugel.

Special to The Times

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ASK a typical parent why high-quality early learning is important, and you’re likely to hear how it’s helping kids develop valuable academic skills while learning how to interact well with others. As representatives of the law-enforcement community, we know that it’s also one of the best ways to lower future crime.

Why? Because children who participate in high-quality early-learning programs start school with a foundation for longer-term success in school, which has a direct impact on their chances of graduating, going on to higher education or succeeding in the workforce, and avoiding involvement in the criminal-justice system.

The proof lies in studies that compared outcomes for children from low-income families who participated in high-quality programs in Michigan and Illinois and children who did not have that opportunity. By age 27, those who didn’t attend the program in Michigan were five times more likely to become chronic offenders with five or more arrests. By age 18, those who did not participate in the program in Illinois were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. In both studies, the kids who attended the early-learning programs were far more likely to graduate from high school.

Unfortunately, individuals who don’t succeed in school over the long run are more apt to commit crimes. In fact, a national survey showed that nearly 70 percent of the inmates in our state prisons failed to graduate from high school. In Washington state, only 60 percent of offenders entering state prisons have a high-school diploma or GED. This bodes poorly for our state, where 24 percent of students do not graduate from high school on time.

If those facts don’t convince you, consider this: Outcomes from high-quality early-learning programs for at-risk children have been shown to cut crime, welfare and other societal costs so much that they produce average net savings to society of $15,000 for every child served.

With all of this in mind, we are very pleased that the recently passed state budget increased funding for quality early-learning programs. As the Legislature and the governor wrestled with a persistent billion-dollar-plus budget deficit and a court order to adequately fund our K-12 schools, they were determined to increase funding for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), which will enable 1,700 more kids to be truly ready for success when they start school.

Despite this increased state investment, there are still far too many kids who will remain on long waiting lists due to lack of funding. We have an opportunity to reduce these waiting lists through a recently announced federal administration proposal that offers states significant resources to create, strengthen and expand quality early-learning programs.

The proposal would provide states $75 billion for early learning over 10 years, and would offer Washington more than $61 million in the first year alone. With a match of $6 million in state funds, ECEAP would be able to serve an additional 7,400 children from working and low-income families each year.

In 2010, the Legislature committed to enroll all eligible children in ECEAP by the 2017-18 school year. The proposed federal funding will help us reach that goal, but not without a commitment by the Legislature and governor to not only maintain, but increase our state’s investment in ECEAP.

Reaching an agreement on the 2013-15 state budget was a long and twisted process that ended under the shadow of a potential government shutdown. A deficit exceeding $1 billion is expected to continue into the 2015-17 biennium. Tough decisions and compromises will again dominate the budget discussions in Olympia.

One fundamental point on which everyone should agree is that every child in Washington must arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed.

John Urquhart is King County sheriff and Jim Pugel is Seattle’s interim police chief.

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